Red Team vs. Blue Team: Minimum Wage

Today’s article is a special two for one: two of our writers debate the merits of raising the minimum wage. Who do you think makes the most convincing argument?

Should the Federal Minimum Wage Rise?

by Alexis Watts

Recently, presidential candidates have discussed raising the Federal Minimum Wage, which is currently set at $7.25 an hour. Bernie Sanders advocates a minimum wage of $15 an hour, which is more than double the figure. Hillary Clinton argues that wages should gradually be raised to $12 an hour. Conservative candidates do not generally favor such high wage hikes, and this may be an issue for debate in the 2016 election.

The US currently has one of the lowest minimum wages of any high-income country. It has had a higher minimum wage in the past. In 1968, the minimum wage was $1.60, the equivalent of $10.34 an hour in current dollars. The US has also had lower minimum wages; in 1938, for example, the minimum wage was 25 cents, the equivalent of only $3.98 today.

So, should the national minimum wage be raised?

What is the Federal Minimum Wage, and who benefits from it?

The Federal Minimum Wage was originally part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), passed in 1937. This act also regulated how many hours employees could work without receiving overtime pay. The federal government is authorized to set a minimum wage and make hours regulations because the Constitution gives it broad power to regulate many aspects of commerce in the United States. FLSA benefits many low-wage workers who are paid by the hour. While some characterize these workers as teenagers with no real responsibilities, statistics show that 89% of those who would benefit from a national raise are workers over the age of 20.  Minimum Wage

There are some exceptions to FLSA. Employees who receive tips or work on commission (such as waiters) receive a lower base wage, but employers must make up the difference if their total pay falls below a certain hourly minimum. Domestic and agricultural workers do not benefit from these minimum wage protections. One notable criticism of FLSA is that it leaves out these important workers, who are often from minority groups.

What about State and Local Minimum Wages?

29 states have raised their minimum wage to above $7.25 an hour. Some cities have raised their wages even higher. Berkeley, CA is now contemplating a minimum of $19 an hour. Seattle has already raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour. These high local wages may reflect unique economic conditions. In both the Bay Area and Seattle, the price of rent has been driven higher by an influx of highly paid technology industry employees. However, these cities still need hourly workers like clerks an baristas; they are often the backbone of a rich local cultural scene.

The Minimum Wage Must Properly Reflect Current Economic Needs

In the United States, the minimum wage makes it difficult to afford shelter and other essentials. Purchasing power varies widely from place to place; a dollar buys more housing, food, and other essentials in many rural areas than it would in a major city. However, the National Low-Income Housing Coalition recently issued a study showing that these regional differences still do not allow any minimum wage workers much breathing room. Most financial planners suggest that no more than 30% of a worker’s income go to housing. However, there is no state in which average minimum-wage workers can secure housing using only that portion of their income. An average two-bedroom apartment for a small family would now require a full-time wage of $12.65 an hour in Arkansas and a whopping $28.04 in Washington, D.C. Many low-wage workers have little ability to save or to buy non-essential goods.

While some argue that the minimum wage causes inflation, the reality is that inflation also devalues the minimum wage. The minimum wage does not automatically increase as the price of basic food or housing rises, leaving many individuals who provide important services without the means to earn a living.

If the Minimum Wage is Raised Gradually, it Will Not Increase Unemployment

When the minimum wage is raised, it redistributes some of the country’s entire income from the top (where it is often saved or invested) to the bottom (where it is often spent). Households in the bottom 20% make their income mostly through wages and employment-based tax incentives, and they experience an increase in discretionary income when wages rise. The money these households spend flows into the economy and may allow employers to create new jobs, rather than decrease their staff.

A Department of Labor survey recently showed that 3 out of 5 small business owners support a gradual increase in the minimum wage. This type of an increase would make it possible for business to operate without laying off employees. Department of Labor data also shows that there is no negative effect on unemployment when the minimum wage is raised.

Experiments like the minimum wage hike in Seattle may help to clarify what happens to a local economy when much higher wages are introduced. If the wage increase creates jobs and helps to eliminate poverty, it may prove detractors wrong.


Arguments Against Raising the Federal Minimum Wage

by Sarah K. Lee

Is raising the federal minimum wage all it’s cracked up to be? Although recent presidential candidates have taken a stance for raising the minimum wage in support of more sustainable wages for low-income earners, there are a number of economists who widely disagree. Many economists claim that raising the minimum wage would in fact be detrimental to the economy and the low-income earners such advocates seek to protect. Economists predict raising the minimum wage would result in a steep decline in minimum wage jobs, higher consumer prices for goods, and less entry-level positions for less experienced workers—all of which would negatively impact low-income communities the most.

Increased Unemployment

A number of studies have shown raising the minimum wage results in a loss of jobs due to employers being unable to hire as many minimum wage employees as they would have been able to at lower wages. The Congressional Budget Office predicts a rise in minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 would result in a loss of 500,000 jobs across the nation. Supporting that prediction, a study showed the incremental minimum wage increases between 2006 and 2012 resulted in an overall decrease in the national employment-population ratio by 0.7 percent, equating to a loss of

conceptual sign with words minimum wage increase  ahead over blue sky

approximately 1.4 million jobs. Economists argue inflating the minimum wage would actually do more harm than help to low-income communities, those who are purportedly meant to benefit from such a raise.

Higher Consumer Prices

Economists argue hiking the minimum wage could drive businesses to charge more for goods in order to make up for the additional labor costs. This would be particularly detrimental in low-cost, low-wage states where such an increase in prices would affect poor consumers the most. Again, economists argue such an outcome would negatively impact the very target group a raise in the minimum wage seeks to help.

Fewer Positions for Entry-Level Workers

A higher minimum wage could also result in more experienced workers feeling less compelled to move on to higher level positions because the pay at a minimum wage job is adequate. Such a scenario would be bad for less experienced workers, shutting them out from potential entry-level positions. These less experienced workers are primarily made up of teenagers, immigrants, and low-income populations—many who lack the skills to obtain any other type of employment and rely on minimum wage positions to help escalate them to higher paying positions. Economists argue a higher minimum wage could throw off the balance of employment dynamics.

Alternative to Raising the Minimum Wage? Raising the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

Many who oppose raising the minimum wage are not against it for malicious reasons, but rather believe low-income populations can be aided through alternative means without disrupting employment rates. One of the most popular proposals has been to raise the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC is a refundable tax credit calculated based on a recipient’s income and number of children. By increasing the EITC, more money would be afforded to those who are not making enough on wages alone. Advocates of this proposal maintain this change would provide real assistance to those who truly need it, the low-income population, and would not adversely affect employment rates or consumer prices.

The Supreme Court To Examine Freedom of Speech in Boston’s Train Stations

In the upcoming case American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) v. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), the Supreme Court will decide whether or not the MBTA has set proper restrictions on advertising in public transit stations. It will decide whether or not the MBTA is a public forum, and whether or not the MBTA curbed freedom of speech by engaging in unconstitutional viewpoint-based discrimination in disallowing certain advertising.

The Facts of the Case

Three years ago, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) began capitalizing on the ability to accept advertisers in the transit system. The MBTA has always had some ground rules about the advertisements. For example, they must not demean or disparage individuals or groups.

MBTA accepted an advertisement from the Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine which showed the Palestinian loss of land from 1946 to 2010 and claimed that 4.7 million Palestinians are refugees. The ad was taken down after several complaints, but then the MBTA released a decision to put it back up. Around the time the pro-Palestinian advertisement returned, the American Freedom Defense Initative (AFDI) asked that its own ad be published at 10 public transit stations. The advertisement read: “IN ANY WAR BETWEEN THE CIVILIZED MAN AND THE SAVAGE, SUPPORT THE CIVILIZED MAN. SUPPORT ISRAEL DEFEAT JIHAD” Subway Islam

The MBTA rejected the ad because it broke the restriction against disparaging individuals or groups. AFDI changed the ad: “savages” was reworded to “those engaged in savage acts” and “jihad” to “violent jihad.” The ad also now said “defeat jihad support Israel.” With that change in tone, the MBTA accepted the second advertisement. Then, the AFDI pulled back the approved ad in favor of a third that again contained the word “savages.” This third advertisement was rejected. The AFDI sued, claiming that the MBTA violated their free speech rights.

What are Public Forums?

There are two main types of public forums. A “traditional” public forum, like a public park or sidewalk, is a place that has always been used to carry out speech activities. The government cannot totally restrict speech in traditional public forums. In “designated” public forums, the government intentionally creates an additional place where freedom of speech can exist. However, because the government creates the designated forum, it can further regulate speech there. In all public forums, the government is very, very limited in its ability to restrict the content of speech.

In this case, the MBTA likely did not create a “designated” public forum. The MBTA clearly states in its advertising rules that it does not intend to create a public forum. The MBTA has also always had a number of ground rules about advertisements. The AFDI may have a difficult time trying to show that the MBTA intentionally created a public “anything goes” forum for speech, especially after complying with the set of regulations that the MBTA created.

Is the Restriction on “Demeaning and Disparaging” Advertising Unconstitutional?

Even if there is no public forum, the government cannot easily restrict freedom of speech based on the viewpoint of the speaker. It has much more leeway to restrict the manner of speech. For example, even in a public park, a person cannot scream political speech through a bullhorn in the middle of the night.

As an older case regarding the MBTA’s “demeaning and disparaging” guideline pointed out, advertisers don’t have the right to use any terms they wish just because they are the most effective means of expressing a message. Thus, the MBTA’s restriction may well be on the manner of speech rather than the content. In this view, some terms (such as “savage” here) are the equivalent of the 3 a.m. bullhorn. They are inappropriate not because of the ideas they express, but because of the manner of expression.

The AFDI argues that the “demeaning and disparaging” standard is being used to discriminate against their viewpoint. They argue that MBTA decision-makers have too much leeway to employ their personal views about what is “demeaning and disparaging” to groups or individuals. They also argue that certain views might be considered “demeaning and disparaging” to some, and that those views are being discriminated against. However, the MBTA has created many guidelines to implement this standard that make it much less subjective and more likely to be applied fairly.

What May Be the Outcome?

In this case, there are a few factors that may hurt AFDI. The MBTA worked with their organization and accepted their second ad. This shows that MBTA hasn’t totally denied them a viewpoint. It also shows that AFDI knew it was dealing with a restricted forum rather than a completely public one. AFDI’s claim that the restriction on demeaning and disparaging individuals and groups is vague or discriminatory is also fairly weak, especially given the MBTA’s thorough guidelines and, again, their acceptance of the second ad through that process.

Hate Crime Laws: Helpful or Harmful?

The first hate crime laws were enacted in 1969, and this area of law has grown exponentially over the years. A hate crime occurs when the perpetrator of a crime selects their victim based on membership or affiliation with a group, religious belief, creed, lifestyle or immutable characteristics such as race and gender. Whether a crime is designated a hate crime or not is important for sentencing, because if a criminal act is classified as a hate-crime the accused will face an enhanced sentence. For example, if someone punches someone on the street for no reason, they will be charged with battery.Hate Crime

However, if someone punches someone on the street because they are Jewish, the attacker will be charged with battery and face a hate crime enhancement. This is significant, because a battery charge may only carry a sentence of 6 months, but the actions are classified as a hate-crime the sentence could be two years.

Hate crime laws are enacted with the best of intentions, because when situations like Matthew Shepard are brought to light, communities are infuriated. The tragic incident of Matthew Shepard, being tortured and murdered for no other reason than his sexual orientation, was a heart wrenching story. As details of what horrible people the murderers were, the nation became even more infuriated with the story.   These horrific acts eventually resulted in President Obama signing The Matthew Sheppard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law in 2009. This legislation increased the number of what groups protected by hate-crime laws, which include the addition of sexual orientation as a protected class.

Pros and Cons of Hate Crimes

Although, this legislation was passed with the best of intentions, there is controversy surrounding it. Three primary points of contention are:

1. Do hate crime laws prefer different groups of victims over others? Critics of hate-crime laws argue that the purpose of legislation is to treat everyone equally. Therefore, when someone is victimized by a crime they suffer harm, i.e. if someone is stabbed and robbed they have been injured and lost money. This harm is the same whether a white male robs a white male, a white male robs a black male, or a white gay male robs a black straight male, so on and so on. In summary, being the victim of a robbery is a horrific event in any victim’s life, and critics of the law ask why one victim is entitled to sympathy and protection than another?

The counterargument is that if an individual was victimized for nothing other than their race, the perpetrators conduct is even more reprehensible and should be punished more harshly. The controversy however, has been clearly decided by the legislature and hate-crime laws are in effect across the United States.

2. What groups are entitled to more protection under hate crime laws? If it is applied too liberally, will unfair sentences occur? The original hate-crime laws enacted in 1969 only applied to federally protected activity, such as voting. Furthermore, these laws were primarily enacted to protect African-Americans discrimination. However, as time progressed, more groups were included and protection applied to non-federally protected activity. The controversial aspect with these enactments are twofold:

(A) By identifying certain groups, others are excluded. Clearly, individuals belonging to the major religions such as Islam, Judaism and the like are protected. However, what about a Scientologist? Do these laws promote favoritism towards certain beliefs over others?

(B) Criminal activity happens and often involves people with different beliefs, but should all these be classified as hate-crimes?

Furthermore, something innocuous may be turned into a life-changing event, depending on whether it is labeled as a hate-crime or not. A hypothetical could be two college kids fighting over a girl at a bar. This would not be a good decision, but many college-aged kids make poor decisions. However, in that hypothetical if one of the parties is a Black-Christian and the other a Muslim, both could be charged with a hate-crime. Fighting over a girl at a bar is not a federally protected activity, which was the original intent of the law, but should that incident be considered a hate crime?

3. Do hate crime laws impact a Defendant’s right to fair trial? Does allowing the prosecution to introduce the inflammatory topics of race, religion and sexual orientation allow a criminal defendant to receive a fair trial? Another argument is that a prosecutor can impact an accused’s right to a fair trial. It is up to the prosecutor whether to charge someone with a hate-crime or not, and brining up difficult topics like race, religion, and sexual orientation would not typically be relevant to a whether someone committed a crime. However, hate-crime legislation allows these topics to be discussed at trial. Therefore, in the hypothetical bar fight between the Black Christian and Muslim, the incident could be a routine battery and self-defense case. Or it could be classified as a hate crime, resulting in the discussion of racial and religious biases. This could result in a number of unnecessary stones being overturned and impacting both parties right to a fair trial. However, proponents of hate-crime law can argue that if someone is vandalizing mosques based on an ignorant fear of Muslims, they might only be charged with vandalism. The sentence for vandalism may only be a few months. However, the prosecutor can add a Hate-Crime enhancement, which could result in a more appropriate sentence for that perpetrator.

Hate-crime laws present difficult questions, which have strong arguments on both sides. For now the Mathew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act have been enacted, which has resulted in the legislature indicating a desire to increase the prosecution of hate-crimes. For now only time can answer the question of whether hate-crime laws are helpful or harmful.

Hawaii’s Marijuana Dispensary Law Faces Legal Ethics Challenge

Last week, the Disciplinary Board of Hawaii’s Supreme Court issued an opinion that limits the role that lawyers can play in the bourgeoning medical marijuana dispensary industry. The opinion states that a lawyer can advise a client on the legality of marijuana production and distribution under state and federal law. A lawyer may also choose to advocate for changes in state and federal law on this subject. However, a lawyer may not provide legal services to help create or operate a medical marijuana business, as it is illegal under federal law. In other words, Hawaiians who wish to open a marijuana-related business cannot consult with a lawyer as part of the process.  Marijuana Scales

As states experiment with the legalization of marijuana, each will have to make a decision about how the legal profession will play a role, and how to navigate the conflict between state and federal law. Hawaii’s decision is the latest in a long line of marijuana-friendly states’ interpretations of professional ethics rules.

Marijuana in Hawaii

Hawaii legalized medical marijuana some 15 years ago, but only recently enacted a law that would license marijuana dispensaries for patients. The new law is fairly limited. It will set up a state-wide dispensary system with a total of up to 16 dispensaries. These dispensaries are not inexpensive ventures; the new law will require potential licensing candidates to have at least $1.2 million in the bank. The dispensaries will be resupplied with support from production centers around the state.

Under the latest Disciplinary Board opinion, individuals who wish to set up dispensaries or production centers are not entitled to legal advice or assistance beyond counseling on the validity, scope, and meaning of the new law.

Reasons for the Hawaii Disciplinary Board Decision

Hawaii’s Disciplinary Board cites two main reasons for its decision:

First, the Board is concerned by the fact that Congress has not amended federal law; nationally, marijuana is still illegal. The Ethics Board recognizes that the Department of Justice and Congress have both allowed the enforcement of marijuana-related laws to decline. However, the opinion also notes that this is not a permanent federal stance.

Second, the Board observes that the Hawaii Supreme Court has not amended the rule of professional conduct that applies to client conduct that is illegal under federal law. The rule currently states that “a lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent, but a lawyer may discuss the legal consequences of any proposed course of conduct with a client and may counsel or assist a client to make a good faith effort to determine the validity, scope, and meaning of the law.” This type of rule exists in all states. However, the rule has been modified in some states to account for conflicts between state and federal law over marijuana.

Legal Ethics in Other Marijuana-Friendly States

Hawaii is not the only state in which medical marijuana laws have caused ethical conflicts. The Maine Professional Ethics Commission has also restricted the role of attorneys in marijuana law. In Maine, the Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys distinguish between “presenting an analysis of the legal aspects of questionable conduct and recommending the means by which a crime or fraud might be committed with impunity.” Maine lawyers are thus prohibited from assisting clients in forming medical marijuana enterprises.

Other states have also wrestled with the conflict between the public need for good, reliable legal advice and the furtherance of illegal activities. The Colorado and Nevada Bars have amended their ethics rules with a comment that allows lawyers to provide advice and services so long as they also advise about federal laws (making it clear that marijuana is not completely legal). The Washington Bar has allowed lawyers to provide services “at least until” the federal enforcement policies change.

What Will Happen in Hawaii?

Unfortunately, the public suffers when legal assistance is not available on topics of state law. A lack of legal counseling will not prevent individuals from setting up marijuana dispensaries or grow houses. The absence of legal counsel, however, prevents marijuana dispensaries from making some educated legal decisions that conform to the letter of Hawaiian law. It may also make the process of applying for a state license more difficult and time-consuming than it would otherwise be.

It is also possible that the Hawaiian Supreme Court will take a hint from this opinion and change their legal ethics rule to allow more attorney participation in marijuana law. This would be following in the footsteps of most other states that have partially legalized marijuana.

Update on Proposed Fines for California Drought Water Usage

California Lawmakers Crack Down in the Face of a Monstrous Drought

For the past four years, the state of California has suffered through one of the worst droughts in history. A historic and unprecedented lack of rain has created the need for some very immediate and systemic changes regarding water usage.

As Governor Brown and state officials urge California residents to cut back, local county and city governments have begun passing ordinances that restrict water usage. These restrictions often ban residents from washing their cars and doing other activities involving water. Some neighborhoods are prohibited from watering their lawns while other neighborhoods have placed residents on a schedule, permitting sprinkler usage on only one day a week.  Droughtful

Thankfully, these restrictions, as well as awareness of the issue, have led to an impressive 35% cut in California’s water usage.

Celebrities Among the Most Egregious Offenders

Many California residents have allowed their lawns to go brown in order to conserve water while others have transformed their yards using zeroscaping. Unfortunately, many of Hollywood’s elite have eschewed the water restrictions and have continued to operate their sprinklers, enjoying lush, rolling lawns while their surrounding neighbors have dead grass.

Each individual water district is responsible for policing its residents. As such, uniform policies have failed to develop. For instance, Las Virgenes Municipal Water District is patrolling wealthy Calabasas neighborhoods for violators and has issued many violation letters to famous residents. Some of these individuals were fined.

However, it appears many water districts are not being vigilant about the issue. In Los Angeles, only 9 people were fined despite thousands of warning letters for violations. In Beverly Hills, where some of the more outrageous violations have occurred (and where the largest yards exist), no fines have been levied yet.

California Spring Usage Limited During Drought

California is home to many natural springs. Water bottle companies like Nestle and Sugar Pine contract with the California government to pump water from the springs for bottling and resale. In January of 2014, the governor announced a state of emergency. In response, the California Water Resources Control Board ordered Sugar Pine Spring Water Company to stop diverting water from the Sierra Nevada spring to its bottling facility. Despite this order and numerous warnings, Sugar Pine continued to divert water and was recently slapped with a whopping $225,000 fine.