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A lawsuit attempting to keep off the 2018 ballot an initiative seeking to overturn much of Flagstaff's new higher minimum wage law was dismissed by a judge last week on procedural grounds.

John Napper, a visiting judge from Yavapai County, ruled that Joe Bader, the spokesman for the group behind the $15 hourly wage by 2021, Flagstaff Needs a Raise, did not have standing to sue in the case.

According to Napper’s ruling, state statute specifically “precludes a ‘person’ from maintaining a separate action such as the one filed by (Bader).” The ruling states that the law prevents a person from action seeking to urge the Secretary of State or other officer from putting an initiative on the ballot.

Bader and his lawyer, James Barton, argued the law is too narrow and prevents a person from being able to challenge an initiative due to standing.

“As drafted, (the statute) does create a very narrow right for an individual to ‘contest the validity of the initiative,’” Napper wrote.

“It is beyond dispute the statute severely curtails the right of a private individual to bring a claim challenging the certification of an initiative,” Napper wrote. “However, contrary to (Bader’s) argument, the statute does not entirely preclude the ability to contest the validity of an initiative. It just creates a narrow ability to do so. Whether or not this is a wise policy is not for the Court to decide.”

The initiative is called the Sustainable Wages Act and is supported by the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce and others. If passed, it would put the city’s minimum wage on an increase schedule tied to the state’s, with the requirement that the city’s wage remain 50 cents above the state’s. The increases would bring the city’s minimum wage to $12.50 in 2022.

As the new law, as amended, stands, the city’s minimum wage will increase to $15.50 in 2022.

The repeal initiative will be placed on the ballot for the November 2018 election after the city council voted 5 to 2 in March against holding a special election in May on the issue. Mayor Coral Evans, Vice Mayor Jamie Whelan and councilmembers Eva Putzova, Celia Barotz and Jim McCarthy voted against the May election, with Councilmen Scott Overton and Charlie Odegaard in favor.

The reporter can be reached at cvanek@azdailysun.com or 556-2249.

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Corina Vanek covers city government, city growth and development for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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