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Minimum wage bill to get hearing in Senate

OLYMPIA – A proposal to raise the state’s minimum hourly wage to $12 by 2019 – which has proved a major bone of contention between Democrats and Republicans this session – is set for another round on March 30.

The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee will hold a hearing on that bill and another passed by the House requiring many businesses to offer sick leave. Chairman Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said Friday both could come up for a committee vote by April 1, the deadline for bills that have passed one chamber to be approved by a committee in the other.

Baumgartner said he scheduled the hearing to give representatives of small businesses from around the state enough time to make plans to attend and testify. He plans to invite a panel of legislators with varying views on the minimum wage, including Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, who introduced a similar $12 minimum wage bill in the Senate that did not get a hearing, and Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, an outspoken opponent of the proposal.

The House passed its version of the $12 minimum wage early this month on a 51-46 partisan vote after GOP efforts to change it were ruled out of order or voted down on similar partisan margins. Among the failed changes were proposals to allow employers to pay teenage workers lower wages, either for summer jobs or during training periods.

Because the title of the House proposal is narrowly written to specifically mention a $12 minimum wage without any new exemptions, House Speaker Frank Chopp ruled those amendments “beyond the scope” of the bill, meaning they couldn’t be added to the basic legislation. Republicans said that shut them out of the debate.

After it passed, Senate Majority Caucus Chairwoman Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, predicted the House bill would have a “chilly” reception from the predominantly Republican caucus that controls that chamber.

Baumgartner had sponsored similar teenage minimum wage proposals as separate Senate bills. They received hearings in the Commerce and Labor Committee and passed that panel on partisan votes. But the full Senate never got a chance to vote on them and they are likely dead for the session.

“There weren’t 25 votes,” Baumgartner said Friday of the reason why the bills didn’t come to the Senate floor. That’s the minimum needed to pass a bill in the Senate. 

Some major business groups oppose the $12 minimum wage proposal, noting that the state’s current minimum of $9.47 an hour is already among the nation’s highest and is adjusted each year for inflation. But liberal groups, who have been joined by progressive business owners, argue that the current minimum is not a wage that allows a worker to support a family.

Voters in the city of SeaTac have raised the minimum wage in that city to $15 and the city of Seattle passed an ordinance to raise it to $15 in that city from 2017 to 2019, depending on the size of the business.


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