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COURT SHAKES OFF PLEA FOR BROAD WAGE RULING Long Beach won the battle, but it and 106 other charter cities may have lost the war when the state Supreme Court refused Monday to resolve a significant issue on wage laws. The cities, self-governing under the state Constitution, had wanted the court to declare them exempt from state laws requiring the payment of currently prevailing wages for public works projects. The justices by 6-1 refused, ruling only that Long Beach didn’t have to pay prevailing wages under the laws of 1998, the year the contract at issue was executed. “Resolution of [broader] issues is unnecessary and inappropriate here,” Justice Ming Chin wrote, “because the present project was not a public work subject to the [prevailing wage law].” In the case before the court, the city of Long Beach in 1998 had provided a grant of $1.5 million to the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for a $10 million shelter in Long Beach. The money was limited to pre-construction costs — a critical distinction because state laws require public entities to pay the prevailing wage if any funds go toward actual construction. The state Department of Industrial Relations investigated and declared the animal control facility a public project not exempt from wage laws. L.A.’s Second District Court of Appeal agreed, but the high court reversed Monday. In dissent, Joyce Kennard chastised her fellow justices, saying that the “difficult and important questions” raised by the case should be resolved against the cities. “When, as here, a term in the prevailing wage law can plausibly be construed in two ways, one broad and one narrow, and there is no evidence that the Legislature intended the term’s narrow meaning, this court should adopt the term’s broader meaning,” she argued. Kennard also said the court should have heeded the Department of Industrial Relations’ view. “That decision,” she wrote, “commands great deference.” The case is City of Long Beach v. Department of Industrial Relations, 04 C.D.O.S. 11142. — Mike McKee

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