House sends $10.10 per hour minimum wage bill to Senate after mostly party-line vote

02/10/2015 05:49 PM

UPDATED FRANKFORT — The Democrat-led Kentucky House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday largely along party lines that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour over three years despite protests that the measure would cost thousands of jobs.

Those same concerns will likely doom the bill once it reaches the Republican-led Senate.

House Bill 2, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, passed the chamber on a 56-43 vote. GOP Reps. David Hale of Wellington, Jim Stewart of Flat Lick and Jill York of Grayson broke Republican ranks in voting for HB 2 while Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence, was the only Democrat opposed.

The legislation would lift the state’s current minimum wage, which directly mirrors the federal minimum wage, from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 incrementally by July 1, 2017, with businesses earning less than $500,000 in gross annual profit, agriculture workers, tipped employees, newspaper deliverers and babysitters among those exempt from HB 2.

“I say it’s time to send them a positive message,” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said of Kentucky’s low-wage earners. “I say it’s time to put politics aside.

“The elections that we fussed over last year, mister speaker, are over, and what the body has a chance to do today is to send what I think would be a very important message to those Kentuckians toiling in those minimum wage jobs, that those of us who have the privilege of occupying these seats have not forgotten them.”

Regardless of whether last year’s contentious election cycle has passed, arguments for and against HB 2 strayed little from past debates.

House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover cited a study he requested from the Legislative Research Commission that found raising the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would jeopardize 14,200 jobs.

Hoover unsuccessfully brought a floor amendment basing the minimum wage on five-year cost of living averages was defeated on a 33-56 vote, but the proposed revision was defeated on a 33-56 vote. His plan would initially boost the minimum wage to $8 per hour starting July 1, 2016.

“To me that’s a responsible way to do it, no ifs, ands or buts about it,” said Hoover, R-Jamestown.

HB 2 would also establish pay equity between males and female workers throughout the state, and the commissioner of the Department of Workplace Standards would be required to draft gender-neutral regulations to evaluate job equivalency and determine whether certain positions are filled by people of a certain sex, race or national origin.

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, a Louisville Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, said women typically earn about 76 cents on the dollar compared to men in equal roles, and other states have implemented similar laws to bridge the pay gap between men and women.

“I think it’s about time Kentucky stepped into the 21st century and recognized that work that is dominated by women in the state of Kentucky is worth the same as work that is dominated by men,” she said.

But the increased oversight created in HB 2 rankled some Republicans. Rep. Robert Benvenuti said the process of deciding which jobs are deserving of equal pay might be confusing for business owners trying to comply with the bill, and the commissioner’s powers extend beyond federal laws on job equality.

“I think the example given earlier was an electrician and an LPN (licensed practical nurse),” said Benvenuti, R-Lexington. “How can a healthcare provider employing LPNs budget and be able to operate their facility with the unknown factor that wages for electricians might increase next year? … If you’re looking at moving your company to Kentucky, this will be a significant barrier to job growth in this state.”

Gooch also cited concerns with how the bill would affect the communities in his western Kentucky district. An analysis by the LRC shows local governments would see their personnel costs increase $5 million once HB 2 takes full effect, although occupational taxes would jump an estimated $7.4 million.

Some cities and counties would benefit more than others under the bill, the LRC analysis found.

“I’m really concerned that if I were to vote for this wage and this passes, then people in my district who used to have a full-time, paid fire and ambulance service may have to depend on volunteer service to do that, and that could affect peoples’ lives,” Gooch said.

HB 2 faces long odds in the Senate. Low-wage jobs are “not what you want to base your economy on,” Senate President Robert Stivers told reporters Tuesday.

“We want to see the $15, $18, $20-per-hour jobs, and that’s why we passed the right-to-work bill and we think there needs to be some tort reform and we need to have tax code changes and regulatory reform,” said Stivers, R-Manchester.

“So if it comes over here, we’ll look at it, discuss it and see if it somehow fits in to what we think is a good scope and plan for creating Kentucky jobs and strengthening Kentucky families.”

Pure Politics reporter Don Weber contributed to this report.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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