The petition to raise Nevada’s minimum wage survived its first court test Wednesday as Carson District Judge James Wilson ruled it can go forward without amendment.
Backers including the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) want voters to mandate annual increases in the state’s minimum wage, bringing it to $13 an hour by 2024. The proposed constitutional amendment was challenged by the Reno-Sparks and Las Vegas chambers of commerce.
First, chamber lawyers Kevin Benson and Matt Griffin argued the petition’s lay description completely avoided telling potential signers the petition would impose damages on businesses that violate the minimum wage rules, even if that violation was unintentional and accidental. Under current law, the employee just gets the pay he/she should have gotten but, if voters approve the petition in November, the employee would get three times the amount of money he or she was shorted.
“Normally you have to show it was an intentional act in order to get punitive damages,” Benson said.
Griffin said treble damages — triple the amount of the actual damages — plus attorneys’ fees “is a very large effect for the small businessman.”
He said that part of the petition “will be a major point of discussion if this goes forward.”
But Bradley Schrager representing the petition backers said the fact that issue isn’t raised in the Description of Effect “is not likely to rise to the level of materially misleading.”
He said the description is succinct and straight forward, telling voters the intention is to increase the minimum wage and, down the road, tie it to cost of living increases.
Wilson agreed, ruling opponents “have not met their burden of showing the Description of Effect is clearly invalid.”
“Anyone seeking to halt an initiative petition bears the burden of showing an initiative petition is clearly invalid,” he said.
The second issue Griffin and Benson argued was the petition improperly included administrative matters involving Nevada property rights and eminent domain that can’t be in a petition.
Schrager argued the primary objection was to the deadlines and dates included in the petition and those were just changes to existing deadlines contained in Nevada’s Constitution.
“It’s not sufficient to strike down the petition,” he said.
Again, Wilson agreed saying the constitution already contained language “similar to what the Plaintiff is saying is not permissible.”
Benson said after the ruling he will have to meet with their clients before deciding whether to appeal the ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court.
The petition, if approved, would raise Nevada’s minimum wage to $9.25 an hour in 2018, then bump it another 75 cents each year after until it reaches $13. After that, the minimum wage would be increased by the state annually either using the cost of living index or any increase in the federal minimum wage, whichever is higher.