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Miami Beach gets backing in minimum wage fight

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Former Florida State University President Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte and a group of law professors from across the country received approval Tuesday to file a brief at the Florida Supreme Court backing Miami Beach in a legal battle about a local minimum wage.

The Supreme Court approved a request by D’Alemberte, a former dean of the FSU College of Law, and the professors to file a friend-of-the-court brief.

Miami Beach is asking the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals-court ruling that blocked a local minimum wage from taking effect.

The city in 2016 approved an ordinance that had been planned to set the minimum wage in the city at $10.31 an hour this year, with annual incremental increases to $13.31 an hour in January 2021.

But opponents, including the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, challenged the legality of the local minimum wage.

"I think, ultimately, it should be up to the individual business," said James Miller, with the Florida Retail Federation. "I don't think the government should be telling a business what to pay their employees."

The 3rd District Court of Appeal agreed with the opponents, saying a state “preemption” law prevents local governments from establishing minimum wages.

The case, in part, focuses on a 2004 constitutional amendment that created a higher minimum wage in Florida than the federal minimum wage.

Miami Beach contended that the constitutional amendment also allowed it to set a different minimum wage. But the appeals court said an earlier state law prevented local governments from setting minimum wages and that the constitutional amendment did not change that “preemption” law.

D’Alemberte and the law professors indicated in a motion seeking to file the brief that they will dispute the appeals court’s interpretation.

"We really need to respect the idea of giving local government power, particularly where the Constitution clearly intends for local government to have that power," said D'Alemberte, who serves as FSU president from 1994 to 2003.

The motion said the city minimum-wage ordinance “fits comfortably within the scope of powers guaranteed to home rule governments in the Florida Constitution and should be sustained as immune from preemption by the state.”