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Minimum Wage Proposal First Measure to Qualify for 2020 Ballot

October 31, 2019 - 6:00am
John Morgan and Ron DeSantis
John Morgan and Ron DeSantis

The Florida Division of Elections has confirmed sponsors of a proposed constitutional amendment to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026 have secured enough validated voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

According to the DOE, as of Tuesday afternoon, Florida For A Fair Wage had submitted 766,352 signatures, surpassing the 766,200 required to be presented to voters in a statewide election.

The measure must still be vetted in a review by the state’s Supreme Court and undergo a fiscal impact study by the state’s Financial Impact Estimating Committee (FIEC).

It is the first of as many as eight citizen-initiated petition drives seeking to qualify for the November 2020 ballot by filing 766,200 signatures with the DOE by Feb. 1.

The proposed constitutional amendment calls for raising the current minimum wage from $8.46 an hour to $10 in September 2021 with $1 an hour increases annually until it reaches $15 in 2026.

After 2026, the constitutional amendment will require the state to raise the minimum wage annually in accordance with inflation.

Florida For A Fair Wage’s “Fight For 15” effort is spearheaded by chairman John Morgan, a prominent Orlando trial attorney whose law firm has contributed nearly all the $4.78 million the campaign has garnered in funding, although the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Action Fund recently donated $250,000.

The DOE’s announcement that Florida For A Fair Wage had secured a place on the 2020 ballot followed criticism of the proposal by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Speaking before the Associated Industries of Florida Conference in Tallahassee in a speech live-streamed on his Facebook page Monday, DeSantis said the proposal would cause “big, big upheavals” for the hospitality industry, especially restaurants.

The state’s minimum wage for tipped employees is $5.44 an hour, about $3 less than the standard minimum wage. Restaurants receive “tip credit” for the difference, which would remain at $3 an hour under the constitutional amendment.

This would unfairly raise salaries often-marginal businesses have to pay in salaries, ultimately costing jobs and stymiing business growth, DeSantis said.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association says the average tipped employee in Florida makes more than the proposed $15 minimum wage.

The proposed amendment would result in businesses shifting from tipped employees toward automation or employees at the fixed hourly rate, the association said.

The measure is “going to cause big, big upheavals for the restaurant industry. It just will,” he said, praising the Legislature for adopting a 2019 law that makes it more difficult and expensive for citizen-initiated petitions to qualify for the ballot.

DeSantis said that organizing citizen-initiated petitions has become a “cottage industry” for national consultants and a “game” wealthy donors can orchestrate – an oblique reference to Morgan, who also largely financed 2016’s successful ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana.

“If you’re going to amend the constitution it should be provisions similar to what we’ve seen with the federal Constitution,” he said. “Term limits, which we have. Two-thirds [legislative majority] to raise taxes. Structural changes or things where you are protecting individual rights.”

A minimum wage measure should not be incorporated into the constitution. DeSantis said.

“When you put that in the constitution, we can’t just go back and say, ‘Oh, let’s tweak it, let’s do that,’” he said. “You literally would have to go back and do another constitutional amendment.”

In an email to the News Service of Florida, Morgan invited DeSantis to save voters all the fuss and just raise the state’s minimum wage.

DeSantis “has a chance to have a fair minimum wage enacted in the next session,” Morgan wrote. “If it was fair, maybe I could agree. If it is eyewash, I will know. If it is fair, I will drop my initiative.”

Morgan also noted DeSartis’ reference to getting initiatives on ballots being a “game” for wealthy donors.

“This is not a game to me. It is a matter of morality and dignity,” Morgan said. “Had voters not weighed in [by passing a constitutional amendment] we would not have medical marijuana. The pharmaceutical industry would have ensured that. Felons would not have the right to vote."

John Haughey is the Florida contributor to The Center Square.

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