Florida’s Supreme Court effectively blocked on Tuesday a Miami Beach law that would have raised the minimum wage in the city, ending a years long battle to allow Florida cities to set their own minimum wages.
The city passed an ordinance under former Mayor Philip Levine in 2016 that would have raised the minimum wage in the city to $13.31 by January 1st, 2021.
The measure was fought in court by the Florida Retail Association, which represents businesses across the state. The group argued that state law prevents municipalities from raising the minimum wage. It also argued that allowing cities to set their own minimum wages would create a confusing patchwork of wage rates across the state that would negatively impact business.
The highest court in the state used its discretion in discharging jurisdiction in the case, leaving in place a Third District Court of Appeals summary judgment that blocked the ordinance from taking effect.
“It’s disappointing, but it does end it,” said Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, referring to the court’s decision. “Obviously we’re going to continue to pursue any other avenues legislatively and any other way we can think of.”
Specifically, Mayor Gelber said he would support an ongoing effort by Orlando-based attorney John Morgan to get a ballot measure on raising the statewide minimum wage on the 2020 ballot.
The summary judgement from the Third District Court of Appeals found that state laws preempted the city’s attempt to raise wages. A statute enacted in 2003 established the federal minimum wage as the minimum wage for the state and denies the right of any city or county of raising that minimum wage, the court found. The statute reads, in part: “a political subdivision may not establish, mandate, or otherwise require an employer to pay a minimum wage, other than a state or federal minimum wage."
The decision to back away from the case and uphold the lower court’s decision is one of the first major moves of Florida Supreme Court that has been dramatically reshaped by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ appointment of three Justices. Those judges replaced three Justices that were appointed by Democrats that reached age limits for retirement.
The city’s decision to pass the ordinance under former Mayor Levine came under scrutiny when Levine mounted his 2018 Gubernatorial campaign as a Democratic Candidate. Levine was accused of using the popular ordinance as a way to prop himself up in a statewide race, even though it long seemed bound to fail in the courts.
“Clearly a lot of the decisions that were made in Miami Beach were done to give platform to a position at the state level,” Miami Beach commissioner Michael Gongora said in an interview last year. “I think that’s an issue that I think impacts our state and a lot of voters would like to see a minimum wage increase but that wasn’t something that Miami Beach could do as a city.”
"If a Democrat had won, it would have been worth it," said former Mayor Levine. "But a Republican won, and so was it worth it? It's just a real shame is what it is."
"Elections have consequences. If a Democrat had won at least you would have had Justices that would agree to hear the case. But now, with this stocked court they don't even want to listen to arguments about an issue that affects millions of Floridians," he continued.
Levine seemed to lament the Florida Democratic Party's selection of progressive Andrew Gillum as the Gubernatorial nominee, suggesting a more moderate candidate could have brought a victory and perhaps changed the outcome of this case. Gillum bested Levine in the Democratic primaries before narrowly losing to Gov. DeSantis. "It sends a message to Floridians far on the left that Florida is not a progressive state. This is the consequence of an election that went way too far to the left, and that's my opinion," said Levine.
Current Miami Beach Mayor Gelber said the fight was worth the effort.
“I’m not critical of trying, I think it’s a righteous goal worth supporting,” he said. “I’m not sure why it’s necessary for Tallahassee to tell a local community they can’t have any say on something like minimum wage and plastics. There’s a lot of these preemptions in Tallahassee that have to be addressed.”
“We’re not done, we’re not giving up,” said Gelber.