Politics

The Kentucky Supreme Court will decide the fate of local minimum wage laws.

On Friday, the court heard arguments over whether Louisville’s minimum wage ordinance violates state law by going beyond the scope of Kentucky’s minimum wage, which is tied to the federal rate of $7.25 per hour.

The Kentucky Restaurant Association and the Kentucky Retail Federation say that as a local government, Louisville can’t violate a “comprehensive scheme” of state employment laws by raising the minimum wage.

Brent Baughman, an attorney representing the business groups, argued that the state minimum wage law “is not a standalone provision, it is in a context of a broader statutory scheme with respect to wages and hours regulation in this commonwealth.”

“It creates all sorts of potential ramifications for our courts system if localities can create jurisdictions or attempt to create jurisdictions for enforcing their local ordinances in our state courts,” Baughman said.

Passed in 2014, the Louisville ordinance will gradually raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour by July 2017. The rate was bumped to $7.75 an hour in 2015, and will increase to $8.25 an hour starting July 1 of this year.

A Jefferson Circuit Court judge already ruled the city could raise the minimum wage, but the business organizations appealed the case to the state Supreme Court.

Sarah Martin, an assistant Jefferson County attorney, argued that the ordinance isn’t violating a “comprehensive scheme” and that there’s precedent for such policies.

“This is really no different than having to comply with, for example, smoking law; smoking is prohibited in Jefferson County but it’s not in other counties that are adjoining,” Martin said. “So employers are used to following laws in different counties.”

Martin said in order for the state’s minimum wage law to be a comprehensive scheme, the legislature would have to “expressly preempt” local governments from creating new laws.

The ruling on the case, which probably won’t come for months, will have implications on whether other local governments can set higher minimum wages.

In 2015, Lexington’s Urban County Council voted to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by July 2018.

This story has been updated. 

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.