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Minnesota Supreme Court Hears Arguments On Wage Ballot Question

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The push to put more money in the pockets of low-wage workers has gone from Minneapolis city streets to City Hall.

That is where it ran into resistance when council members decided against a $15 minimum wage ordinance.

Supporters of the measure went to work and secured enough signatures to ask voters in November to amend the city charter. That amendment would commit the city to enforce a graduated push to enforce the higher minimum wage within the next six years.

After a Hennepin County District Court judge agreed with the process, the city appealed that decision to the State Supreme court.

On Tuesday, the five justices listened to arguments from both sides as to the legalities of letting voters decide such measures.

Attorney Charles Nauen represented the city of Minneapolis, asking justices, "Is the minimum wage proposal a proper charter amendment under Minnesota law? The answer to that is no."

Nauen went on to argue that the 96-year-old city charter never intended to allow for initiative and referendum. He said the job of setting municipal code and legislation rests entirely with the elected council members. Nauen added that charter amendments lack the flexibility of ordinances.

"Suddenly this opens the door to having charter amendments which really are in the nature of ordinances but not with the same flexibility to deal with that ordinance," Nauen said.

Attorney Brian Nestor, who argued on behalf of plaintiffs, said the lower court got it right, adding that the high court should affirm the judge's decision to allow the voters decide.

"The long history by home rule charters has been used by cities in Minnesota to regulate the local functions of promoting the general welfare of their residents," Nestor said.

Justices will now have to decide where that power resides, with the people or those they elect. Both the minimum wage and mandated police liability insurance amendments seek to be on the ballot, so the city needs a decision immediately. It set a Friday deadline for ballots to be formalized.

The Supreme Court is expected to announce the decision within days, with its written opinion coming later.

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