After marathon debate, House passes minimum wage increase, 54-44

02/06/2014 04:35 PM

After the longest debate in the House of the 2014 session, a slim majority voted Thursday to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 over three years from the current rate of $7.25.

House Bill 1 passed 54 to 44 after more than two-and-a-half hours of debate with Republican lawmakers voting largely as a bloc against the measure. Four Republicans — Rep. Jim Stewart of Flat Lick, Rep. Dwight Butler of Harned and Rep. C.B. Embry of Morgantown and Rep. Jill York of Grayson — voted for it. Two Democratic Reps. — Fitz Steele of Hazard and Bob Damron of Nicholasville — voted against it. And two Democrats, Reps. Susan Westrom of Lexington and Rep. Jim Gooch of Providence, didn’t vote. Damron is running for Jessamine judge-executive, while the other three Democrats who didn’t vote for it have re-election challenges.

Embry, this fall, is running for the open 6th state Senate District — which covers Hopkins, Muhlenberg, Ohio and Butler counties. But he said that had nothing to do with his party-line-crossing vote, which was driven by his current constituents in Butler County.

The measure heads to the Republican-led Senate, where it’s a long shot to pass. In fact, Embry described it as “dead on arrival.”

The bill would raise the rate 95 cents starting in July. It would go up another 95 cents each of the next two years. That minimum wage rate would apply to workers at businesses that generate more than $500,000 a year in gross sales so as not to affect the smallest of companies.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who sponsored the bill, made two main arguments:

- 1. Lawmakers have a duty to make policy to help constituents make a living and a full-time minimum wage job would bring in $15,800 a year – nearly $8,000 below the federal poverty rate for families of four and just $300 above the federal poverty rate for a household of two. – 2. There was no outcry after the General Assembly approved the last minimum wage increase in 2007 to $7.25.

A succession of Republicans, starting with House Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, argued against the measure seeking to counter Stumbo’s points.

Hoover, for instance, said this proposal would raise the minimum wage 39 percent at a time when Kentucky was still “in a recession” and ranks 44th in unemployment.

Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, said the measure would affect the state’s bottom line because it would cost $1.18 million a year to raise the pay of state workers currently making the minimum wage.

Similarly, Rep. Bam Carney, a teacher from Taylor County, countered Stumbo’s claim that most school district employees who would be affected by the increase are seasonal employees. Carney then read from financial sheets provided to him by school districts he declined to name.

“It is not that we don’t want to do this,” Carney said. “We would all love to do this … Reality is, this is bad for business.”

Republican legislators — including Reps. Jonathan Shell of Lancaster, Rep. Ken Upchurch of Monticello, Rep. Adam Koenig of Erlanger and Rep. David Osborne of Crestwood – argued that small businesses would be threatened. They could either move to other states, like West Virginia that has a $7.25 minimum wage or Tennessee that has none, or lay off workers. Upchurch read a letter from a business owner in his district to that effect.

“We’re really talking about 3 percent or less of our population,” Hoover said, referring to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showing the total number of those earning $7.25 now in full-time positions. “Those people are important but what about the effect on the others in the workforce as (Upchurch) and others alluded to?”

And Rep. Julie Raque Adams, a Republican from Louisville and former metro councilwoman, asked Stumbo what he would say to local governments that are cash strapped.

“They will manage through,” Stumbo said. “We will manage through, just like we did in 2007.”

Democrats, starting with many of those from Jefferson County, rose to back up Stumbo, including a passionate speech from Rep. Jim Wayne of Louisville, who urged Republicans who spoke against the bill to spend time at food banks and second-hand stores where families struggling on low wages are forced to go.

“If you’re interested in getting people off the rolls of food stamps … then a yes is the right way to go,” Rep. Richard Henderson, D-Mount Sterling.


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