Cook County minimum wage, sick leave issues to be on ballot

Cook County's controversial minimum-wage and paid-sick-leave ordinances most suburbs opted out of last year will return as advisory referendum questions Nov. 6 asking voters whether their own municipalities should comply.

They, along with a third advisory question on whether Illinois should strengthen penalties for the illegal trafficking of firearms and require all gun dealers to be state-certified, were approved for the ballot by a majority of county commissioners July 25.

Thirteenth District Commissioner Larry Suffredin of Evanston made the motion and spoke at length about the first two.

"In communities where we've had a robust discussion of this, like Wilmette, Willow Springs, the village boards have reversed their prior action to opt out of the minimum wage," he said. "The object here is to have these two questions be on the ballot and clarify once and for all that the majority of people of this county support it."

But 17th District Commissioner Sean Morrison and officials in Schaumburg and Barrington are among those who are questioning the value of reopening issues already addressed unless they're to be addressed statewide.

The questions ask whether the minimum wage in each voter's municipality should match the county's $13-per-hour rate for adults 18 and older by July 1, 2020, and be tied to the rate of inflation after that, as well as whether all workers in the municipality should be able to earn up to five days of sick time per year.

Schaumburg Village Manager Brian Townsend said his community is close enough to DuPage County that some businesses would experience a competitive disadvantage from the difference in regulations.

"I think there are a number of county board members concerned at the number of opt-outs who want to persuade us through public opinion," Townsend said.

He added that this type of public opinion still doesn't address the legal question of whether the county has the authority to impose such regulations.

Morrison said the answer to that is definitively no, according to the inquiry he made to the Cook County state's attorney's office last year. But the ordinances were passed and remain on the books.

A total of 109 of the 125 affected municipalities opted out of both ordinances, with two more opting out of one, he said.

Morrison further believes the three advisory questions were chosen to avoid a binding question that all elections for countywide offices be nonpartisan.

"I think the public should be aware that as per election law, we're allowed only three referendums to be put on, and it's amazing that we have three poor ones," Morrison said.

Barrington Village Manager Jeff Lawler said when the issue initially came up more than a year ago and the village opted out, there was strong concern about the potential impact of the ordinances on a community divided by the Lake-Cook county line.

Only Barrington's Cook County residents will vote on the referendum questions, creating further confusion about what kind of villagewide direction the results are meant to provide, he said.

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