BATON ROUGE — Senators seeking to boost Louisiana’s minimum wage are making another push this legislative season for the proposal, which is championed by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
The Senate labor committee voted 4-2 Wednesday to advance the wage hike to the full Senate. The proposal made it that far last year before fizzling after being diverted to a second committee tasked with reviewing how raising some state workers’ pay would impact the budget.
It’s unclear whether new support has built for the effort. The vote in the Senate labor committee split along party lines, with Democrats supporting the wage hike and Republicans opposing it. That could forecast trouble in the majority-GOP Senate.
Supporters say a pay hike will help boost people out of poverty and keep working people from relying on government-financed programs such as food stamps and Medicaid. Bill sponsor Sen. Troy Carter noted the most recent federal minimum-wage increase was in 2009, “but the cost of goods continues to increase.”
Louisiana’s minimum wage is tied to the federal standard, $7.25 per hour. Under Carter’s bill, the state would boost its rate to $8 per hour in 2018 and to $8.50 an hour a year later. The change wouldn’t apply to student workers, tipped workers and certain agricultural workers.
Mary Ellen Slater, owner of a Baton Rouge-based marketing company, supported the minimum wage increase, saying she pays interns at her small business $10 an hour.
“I want to see the Louisiana economy grow and strengthen, and that starts with the consumer,” Slater told senators. “They will spend that money. They will put that back into our economy.”
Business groups opposed the proposal. They said the costs associated with increasing wages could lead to layoffs.
Dawn Starns, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said Louisiana continues to change the rules on businesses, raising taxes multiple times.
“The cost of doing business has gone up over the past three years in this state so it makes it very difficult for a small business to keep its doors open,” she said.
Both Starns and Jim Patterson, with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, suggested the free market should drive the wages paid at a company. Patterson said a minimum-wage hike could keep some companies from hiring low-skilled workers.
Edwards described Carter’s proposal as a “modest, but meaningful increase.”
“If we say that family values are critical to our way of life here in Louisiana, it’s time to start valuing the hard-working families who contribute a great deal to our communities,” the Democratic governor said in a statement.
Currently, 29 states have minimum wages above the federal level, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Voting for the bill Wednesday were Sens. Carter; Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge; Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans; and J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans. Voting against it were Sens. Barrow Peacock, R-Shreveport; and Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles. Committee Chairman Neil Riser, R-Columbia, didn’t vote.