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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

WaLeg Day 79: No vote on $12 minimum wage

OLYMPIA -- Proposals for a $12 minimum wage, mandatory sick leave and a new equal pay law will not leave their Senate committee, meaning they could be dead for the session.

Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Chairman Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said this afternoon he had cancelled a Wednesday meeting at which those bills could have come up for a vote. He called the proposed minimum wage hike, which would reach $12 in stages by 2019, the wrong policy for a state that essentially has two economies, a boom in the Seattle area but higher unemployment elsewhere.

"It could put Eastern Washington at a competitive disadvantage with Idaho," Baumgartner said. 

Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, the bill's prime sponsor, said people can reasonably disagree over what makes a good policy, but she believes the proposal was a reasonable approach to an idea that is popular with the public.

"Ample research shows that this lifts people out of poverty and puts money back in the econony," Farrell said. "It's  not a silver bullet."

Some people testifying at Monday's hearing on the three bills said if the Legislature didn't raise the minimum wage to $12, an initiative to increase it to $15 could be on the ballot next year. Baumgartner said the state shouldn't be forced into bad policy under the threat of an initiative.

The $12 proposal was a reasonable approach that could have prompted people with different views to sit down and discuss the issue, Farrell said. She would consider reintroducing it next year if Baumgartner would be willing to move a proposal to the Senate, where she believes it would have enough votes to pass.

"It sometimes takes several tries" to get legislation to pass, Farrell said.

The sick and safe leave bill would create another government regulation that would be a burden on businesses, and equal pay for women is already required under federal law, Baumgartner said. A state law would just invite more lawsuits, he added: "We need to enforce gender discrimination under federal law."

Under legislative deadlines, the bills had to be voted out of committee by Wednesday to be considered by the full Senate.

The prospect of them passing before April 26, the scheduled end of the session, is now unlikely unless Senate Democrats can convince some Republican members to vote to bypass the committee and bring them to the floor for a vote.

Last month, Senate Democrats criticized Baumgartner for holding few meetings of the Commerce and Labor Committee and not initially scheduling hearings on the minimum wage and other bills which they considered priorities. Baumgartner had sponsored bills to lower the minimum wage for teens in summer jobs and training positions; those passed out of the committee on partisan votes but never came to a vote in the full Senate.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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