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Minimum Wage, Payday Loan Petitions Submitted

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Supporters of raising Missouri’s minimum wage and limiting payday loans submitted petitions Sunday to get the separate measures on the November ballot, beating this weekend’s deadline to turn in signatures.

The proposed minimum wage increase would put Missouri’s minimum pay at $8.25 an hour starting in 2013, with an annual cost-of living adjustment in subsequent years. However, if the federal minimum wage were to rise above the state rate, then Missouri would adopt the federal wage and apply cost-of-living adjustments to that.

Missouri Jobs with Justice, a backer of the minimum wage proposal, said it submitted 175,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office. The same organization supported a successful campaign in 2006 to approve a ballot measure that raised Missouri’s minimum wage to $6.50 with increases when living costs go up.

The payday loan proposal would limit annual rates on short-term loans to 36 percent, including interest, fees and finance charges. Supporters said they submitted 180,000 signatures, but it remained unclear how many actually would count because of a court ruling last month striking down the ballot title for the proposal.

A state trial judge ruled the ballot summary for the payday loan measure was insufficient, unfair and likely to deceive voters and directed the state auditor’s office to prepare a new cost estimate. Missouri law states that signatures on petition pages without the official ballot title cannot be counted as valid.

Edward Greim and Chuck Hatfield, attorneys for two different groups of plaintiffs who successfully challenged the ballot title on the payday loan initiative, issued a statement Sunday afternoon calling for the petition to be rejected.

“On April 6, 2012, a circuit court judge ruled the ballot title in this petition to be invalid and deceptive to voters,” the statement said. “Despite that ruling, Missourians for Responsible Lending continued to deceive voters and collect signatures. We call on the secretary of state to honor the circuit court’s ruling and reject the signatures immediately.”

The lending measure would affect payday loans and other types of short-term loans that are secured by vehicle titles or other means. Supporters of stricter interest limits contend they can be costly when people in difficult financial situations roll the loans over multiple times.

Opponents of the ballot measure contend people sometimes need a short-term loan and that industry fulfills that requirement. They said setting too low an interest rate would force lenders out of business.

“While we have confidence the court’s decision that invalidated their petition will be upheld on appeal, we also know in the meantime an active challenge to their signatures is needed due to a pattern of abuse of the electoral process that has already been documented,” Missourians for Equal Credit Opportunity said in a statement.

The group said it would vet the signatures and examine various tactics used to gather signatures for potential violations.

A study completed by the Missouri Division of Finance in January 2009 found the average payday loan was for $290 and the average annual interest rate was 431 percent.

To make the ballot, organizers need signatures equal to 5 percent of the votes cast in the 2008 governor’s election from six of Missouri’s nine congressional districts. That would be 91,818 to 99,600 signatures, depending on the congressional districts targeted.

Signatures already have been submitted for ballot measures that would allow St. Louis to take over administration of the Police Department and eliminate the five-person state board, starting in July 2013. Another proposal would increase Missouri cigarette taxes from the nation’s low of 17 cents to 93 cents.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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