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Washington’s minimum wage to remain highest of any state at $9.19 an hour

The minimum wage in Washington will go up to $9.19 an hour on Jan. 1, keeping the state ahead of all others and nearly $2 above the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Idaho’s minimum wage will remain unchanged at $7.25 an hour, which is just over $15,000 a year for a full-time employee. It also falls within the federal definition of poverty for a two-person household.

The Washington wage, now $9.04, changes annually to keep pace with the rising cost of living. Voters in 1998 approved a ballot initiative that provides for the rate adjustments.

The wage bump will apply to an estimated 144,000 workers – many of them in retail, food service, hotel and health care jobs – providing them an extra $310 per year on average, according to the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute. Another 20,000 will see a raise as pay scales are adjusted upward, the Washington, D.C.-based group estimates.

Nine other states – Montana, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona, Ohio, Missouri, Florida, Rhode Island and Vermont – also raise minimum wage rates on New Year’s Day.

Most of the new rates will remain under $8, including $7.80 in Montana. Vermont’s wage will increase to $8.60 and Oregon’s will go to $8.95 an hour.

Idaho Labor will intercept some federal tax refunds

BOISE – Idaho's Department of Labor will start intercepting federal tax refunds headed to more than 5,000 Idahoans next year, to recover nearly $10 million in unemployment benefit overpayments due to fraud or misreported earnings.

To avoid the move, the people involved, who all are being notified, will have to repay the amounts by Jan. 3, 2012, including interest and penalties; agree to a repayment plan; or request a review. For information, call toll-free (800) 672-5627.

 Department official Larry Ingram said the department has collected $23 million in overpayments, interest and penalties since 2007, and has withheld state income tax refunds as part of its collection efforts, but this year will be the first time federal officials have allowed it to tap into federal income tax refunds.

Woman finishes bar exam while in labor

CHICAGO (AP) — A pregnant suburban Chicago woman was so determined to finish the Illinois bar exam that she completed the test even after going into labor.

The Chicago Tribune reports 29-year-old Elana Nightingale Dawson had started the final portion of the exam last week when the Northwestern Law School graduate went into labor. The exam must be finished to be valid.

Nightingale Dawson says her goal was “to get through the exam as fast as I could and leave” unless anything more serious happened. Her contractions were about 15 minutes apart.

After finishing, she walked with the proctor about one block to a downtown Chicago hospital. The Downers Grove woman's son, Wilson, was delivered by C-section about two hours later.

She'll find out in October if she passed the bar.

Labor: Beware of site charging for unemployment filings; they’re free

Idaho’s Department of Labor is warning against a private company that’s soliciting out-of-work Idahoans to pay it $9.95 to file their claims for unemployment benefits. Actually, unemployed workers can file such claims themselves for free, either at a local unemployment office, by phone or online. “People need to steer clear of Web sites that appear to offer legitimate applications for unemployment insurance benefits when, in fact, they do not,” said Josh McKenna, benefits bureau chief for the department. “Using an unofficial site will not only cost money that doesn’t need to be spent but could also delay benefits.” The department’s official Web site is the place to go instead, McKenna said, along with its “Idaho Works” online benefits application site.