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Originally published September 4, 2013 at 9:28 PM | Page modified September 4, 2013 at 10:39 PM

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Federal court to weigh SeaTac wage-petition issue

A group backing an initiative to increase the minimum wage in SeaTac to $15 an hour has taken its fight to get the measure on the November ballot to federal court.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The battle over increasing SeaTac’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, the highest in the nation, is heading to federal court after claims by SeaTac Committee for Good Jobs that a city review board improperly eliminated 201 signatures from the petition.

Two of the citizens whose names were removed from the petition have filed a lawsuit, which was moved from King County Superior Court to U.S. District Court on Tuesday.

The lawsuit claims that King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas accepted the findings of SeaTac’s review committee, even though those on the panel had no relevant legal training. Some of the signatures were removed because there were no dates beside the names on the petitions. The review committee included the mayor, city administrator and police chief.

King County Elections had already validated the signatures, the court documents say.

The county elections board found that of the 2,506 signatures turned in, 1,780 were valid. But an opposition group asked the SeaTac City Council to appoint the city review board, which threw out 201 more signatures; that still left enough for the measure to get on the ballot. Then, a group including Washington Restaurant Assocation, Alaska Airlines and Filo Foods filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court challenging the remaining signatures. Judge Darvas rejected 61 more signatures.

Where the petitions had duplicate signatures, the judge ordered that both the original and the duplicate be eliminated. That left 1,518 signatures, and the initiative needed 1,536 to get on the ballot.

After Darvas cut the signatures from the petitions Aug. 26, SeaTac Committee for Good Jobs gathered more and hoped to have them counted. But Tuesday, Darvas refused to add 250 additional signatures to the petitions, referring the matter back to SeaTac to decide whether or not to add them, if the city code allowed.

“It doesn’t,” said Mayor Tony Anderson, “So nothing has changed.”

In the SeaTac Committee for Good Jobs lawsuit, filed on behalf of citizens Patricia Seidenstricker and Brian White, the decision by Darvas was called “a circuitous attack on King County’s finding of sufficiency’’ and “wholly illegal,’’ an act that “deprived voters, including plaintiffs, of their State and Federal Constitutional rights” to enact laws by initiative.

“SeaTac voters want this on the ballot,’’ said Heather Weiner, spokeswoman for the committee. “We feel the opposition knows this and are trying to keep us off the ballot because we’re going to win.’’

The lawsuit filed by Alaska Airlines and others challenging the validity of the petition is also now in U.S. District Court.

The proposed initiative seeks to put on the ballot Proposition 1, which would change the minimum wage for restaurant and transportation workers in SeaTac from $9.19 to $15 an hour. It is vigorously opposed by Common Sense SeaTac, which includes a number of businesses that have created a $250,000 defense fund.

As the legal quagmire deepens, City Attorney Mary Mirante Bartolo said that from SeaTac’s perspective the city has been above board in the way it’s handled the issue.

“We believe the city has at all times acted in everyone’s best interest and within the bounds of the law.’’

The bid to increase the minimum wage came after several people who work in the area noticed that shuttle drivers and food-service people who typically serve customers of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport don’t make a livable wage and were often at the food bank to feed their families.

Nancy Bartley: nbartley@seattletimes.com or 206-464-8522

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