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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Activists kick off initiative to raise Idaho minimum wage

Anne Nesse kicks off a campaign to raise the minimum wage in Idaho on Saturday at Riverstone Park in Coeur d’Alene. (Jesse Tinsley)

As a health teacher at Lakes Middle School in Coeur d’Alene, Warren Ducote saw firsthand the effect of poverty on students’ emotional and physical well-being.

“You see the depression, the anger that’s built up inside, the kids acting up and being unable to focus on school,” Ducote said.

Ducote joined religious, education and community activists Saturday morning in Coeur d’Alene’s Riverstone Park to kick off a voter initiative that would raise Idaho’s minimum wage from the federal minimum, $7.25 per hour, to $9.80 per hour over the next four years. The group, led by Anne Nesse, thinks Idaho’s meager compensation compared to other states is a moral issue that needs to be handled by voters rather than the Legislature.

If the initiative succeeds, minimum wage would jump to $8.10 per hour in 2015. That increase is less than the federal bump to $9 proposed by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address this year.

“It’s a pretty modest proposal, really,” Nesse told an assembled group of about 30 volunteers.

Nesse, who unsuccessfully ran for the Legislature last fall, and her supporters know they have a steep hill to climb. A similar proposal from Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, failed to pass the state House’s Commerce and Human Resources committee during the 2013 legislative session. Idaho remains one of 21 states that enforce only the minimum hourly wage mandated by the federal government.

Dave Eubanks, a member of the Coeur d’Alene School Board, said the foot-dragging in Boise on the issue needs to stop.

“It’s time Idaho entered the 21st century fully,” Eubanks said.

Also on hand for the initiative roll-out was Liz Moore, of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane. Moore told the group she’d volunteered during a successful push in the late ’90s to raise Washington state’s minimum wage and permanently tie it to the consumer price index. As a result, Washington now has the highest minimum wage in the nation at $9.19 an hour.

Moore said the key to success for the Idaho proposal will be outreach in all parts of the state. The group estimates they will need about 84,000 signatures to get the issue on the ballot for the 2014 election.

“It’s a numbers game,” Moore said.

Nesse filed the initiative before a new law took effect that would have made the threshold for ballot inclusion more difficult to reach. Earlier this year, Gov. Butch Otter signed a law requiring all initiatives to garner signatures from 6 percent of registered voters in a majority of the state’s legislative districts, as opposed to just 6 percent of registered voters statewide. That law takes effect July 1, and Nesse said it would likely stifle any grass-roots effort to raise a ballot issue.

“This will probably be our last stand, so it’s really important,” Nesse said.

Rev. Roger LaChance, pastor at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Coeur d’Alene, offered a prayer during the rally. Raising the minimum wage transcends politics, he said.

“This is about the dignity of the human person,” LaChance said.