Outside of the budget, one of my top priorities this legislative session is raising the state’s minimum wage, something which hasn’t occurred in half a decade and will greatly benefit the working men and women of Kentucky.
That goal took another step forward last Thursday, when the House of Representatives’ Labor and Industry Committee overwhelmingly approved House Bill 1, sending it to the full chamber for a vote that will likely occur sometime this week.
If it becomes law, the state’s $7.25 minimum wage would be increased slightly – less than a dollar a year - until it is $10.10 an hour in 2016.
Raising the minimum wage is an issue that is seeing growing support nationally, as many other states have already taken similar steps. Surveys show a majority of the public is in favor as well. Those who say this could bankrupt businesses, as some who testified against this bill claimed, are just wrong.
The time has come to raise the minimum wage, because its value has eroded in the face of inflation and because it would do much to alleviate poverty. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half of the workers in Kentucky who earn this wage or less are older than 22, and nearly a third work full-time at that wage, meaning they earn about $15,000 annually before taxes. About 70 percent of minimum-wage workers are women.
Shortly after the House’s Labor and Industry Committee approved House Bill 1, it also voted in favor of House 191, which would increase the state’s minimum wage for tipped employees until it is eventually 70 percent of the minimum wage for non-tipped employees.
It has been 23 years since this minimum wage – $2.13 an hour – has been raised for those like waitresses and waiters and bartenders and other folks who rely on gratuity to make a living.
Both bills would increase the financial limit for small and/or family-owned businesses currently exempt from the state’s minimum wage laws. That figure, which hasn’t changed since the 1970s, would double from $95,000 to $190,000, meaning more businesses would qualify under this exemption and help keep our state’s “mom and pop” operations in business.
As we wait for these bills to be voted on by the full House, several others focused on education made their way through the chamber last week.
On Wednesday, we approved House Bill 154, a measure that would increase transparency within public school districts and streamline their accountability.
The transparency would come about by having the districts post monthly and annual financial statements online, with the Kentucky Department of Education reviewing the latter for irregularities.
Accountability, meanwhile, would be boosted in two ways: By requiring district finance officers to be certified by the Dept. of Education before being hired; and by better specifying the annual in-service training requirements for school board members and superintendents alike, ensuring ethics and school finances are among the issues regularly covered.
If this legislation is about the financial health of our schools, House Bill 98 is about improving student health. In this case, trained school staff would be allowed to administer insulin to diabetic children, a task only those with a proper healthcare license can now do. This change would make it easier for family members who often have to travel to their children’s school when a nurse is not readily available.
In another education matter, but one that extends beyond the classroom, the House approved a resolution on Thursday that calls on the Secretary of State to lead an effort to study civic education and engagement across the state and report back to legislators in December.
This will hopefully help us find ways to improve voter turn-out while making sure that our citizens, young and old alike, have the knowledge they need to stay informed.
Beyond our work on legislation last week, the House also recognized several groups that visited the Capitol. That includes the United 874K Coalition, which represents the 874,000 Kentuckians who have a disability; the Kentucky Nonprofit Network, which brings together organizations that, collectively, employ one in nine Kentucky workers; and some very talented artists as part of Arts Day last Tuesday.
Now that February has arrived, the legislative pace is set to quicken, meaning your contributions to this process are needed more than ever. If you would like to let me know your thoughts or concerns, you can email me at Greg.Stumbo@lrc.ky.gov, or leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
Also, I’d just like to hope that as we continue to deal with winter storms that you and your family remain safe on our roads. Please exercise caution while driving and, like Kentuckians always do, look out for your neighbors.