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Minimum Wage Increase Clears 2nd Committee

by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 13, 2012 6:13pm
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Posted to: Business, Labor, State Capitol

Christine Stuart photo

Sen. Rob Kane

A bill raising the state’s minimum wage cleared the Appropriations Committee Friday after surviving a rare maneuver by Republicans to split the committee vote.

The bill passed the committee, 29-20, but not before Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, called for a split committee vote that required both the House and the Senate members of the committee to vote separately. The motion died along party lines, but if it had succeeded it would have killed the bill.

“We believed the votes weren’t there in the Senate, although they may be there in the House. I wanted to see if that were the case,” Kane said outside the committee room.

Based on which members attended Friday’s meeting, he said he thought he had a shot at stopping the bill’s progress. Kane’s motion to split the committee brought the meeting to an early halt, when there didn’t seem to be enough Democratic senators in the room to save the legislation.

Appropriations Committee Co-Chairwoman Rep. Toni Walker initially tried to skip the bill and revisit it later, but she could not because the motion was already on the table. She called for a brief recess instead.

Explaining the split vote to the bill’s proponent, Sen. Edith Prague, Walker told her “it would kill the bill if it’s done.”

Hugh McQuaid photo

Sen. Edith Prague

“Then I don’t want it done,” Prague answered. “I would object to that.”

The motion didn’t kill the bill, but the senators on the committee were evenly split.

“It certainly made people wake up and pay attention to what’s going on, that’s for sure. It actually brings attention to the fact that this is not the right bill and not the right time,” Kane said.

Republicans aren’t the only ones who believe this may not be the right time to raise the minimum wage.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy also has expressed concerns about the timing and it’s not clear whether he will sign it if it reaches his desk. His spokesman, Andrew Doba, said the governor has been a supporter of the minimum wage and signed two bills last year aimed at helping the same population of low-wage earners. But Malloy remains hesitant given the current business climate.

“The governor wants to ensure that any new legislation won’t harm our growing recovery. Under the governor’s leadership, Connecticut created more than 17,000 private sector jobs last year — it’s progress we need to continue. He looks forward to watching the debate on this issue as it proceeds through the legislature,” Doba said.

“I’m not slamming any doors. I’m not saying ‘no,’ but I’ll watch the debate and perhaps reach a conclusion subsequently,” Malloy said in January.

The Labor and Public Employees Committee already knocked a quarter off the 75 cent increase House Speaker Chris Donovan originally proposed. The revised bill calls for an increase of 50 cents an hour in each of the next two years. So the minimum wage, currently at $8.25, would rise to $9.25 by 2014. After that it will be indexed to the Consumer Price Index

Though the bill does less than originally proposed, Prague encouraged members to support it.

“This is a good bill. It doesn’t do an awful lot but it does a little something and the people of this state deserve a little something,” she said.

During Friday’s debate Democrats beat back amendments to further alter the bill. One change proposed by Kane would have exempted workers ages 16 to 22 from receiving the wage increase. Seasonal workers also would have been exempted.

Kane pointed to the 25 percent unemployment rate among 16- to 22-year-old workers, adding that businesses might be more inclined to hire young people if they did not have to pay them an increased minimum wage.

Hugh McQuaid photo

Sen. Rob Kane

“These individuals don’t need a higher wage. They need jobs,” Kane said. “I believe if we see the forest through the trees, this way would create incentive for these individuals to get work.”

Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, disagreed, saying the purpose of the bill isn’t to get more people to work, it’s to make work pay more. He spoke of a friend’s son, who is working a minimum wage job and has a baby on the way.

“The last thing we need to do is freeze that kid’s wages and slam the door shut to make sure abject poverty is where they stay,” Tercyak said.

The amendment was defeated 28-17.

Earlier in the day, Rondelynn Bell and Naimah Spann — co-owners of Niro Boutique, a Hartford clothing store — held a press conference calling for support of the bill. They said they pay their two employees well above minimum wage and have found it helps their business.

“Being a small business, we expect a lot from our staff members. Because of that, to let them know we value the extra work they do, we do pay them more,” Bell said. “A lot of that comes back to us. The staff tell people, they tell their friends, they tell their aunts. They’re marketing us.”

In 2008, a bill that increased the minimum wage to where it is today survived a gubernatorial veto when the House voted 102 to 39 and the Senate voted 25 to 9 to override the governor’s veto and increase the minimum wage by 35 cents in 2009 and by 25 cents in 2010.

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