When the Kentucky House voted last Thursday for my legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage, I couldn’t help but think back to just before Christmas, when a column I read in this newspaper convinced me that we could no longer afford to wait to take this step.
Although the writer wasn’t from Kentucky, her arguments applied here just the same. Nearly five years after the last increase, it’s clear that these workers are more than overdue for a raise. It is time that the minimum wage is once again a living wage.
Those of us voting for House Bill 1 last week didn’t have to wait long to learn just how popular this is in Kentucky.
According to a statewide poll announced over the weekend by the state’s two largest newspapers and statewide television stations, Kentuckians approve the minimum wage increase in my bill by more than two-to-one. Believe me that in today’s political environment we don’t often see an issue with such overwhelming support.
My hope is that Senate leaders will pay close attention to this poll and send House Bill 1 to Governor Beshear, who is a supporter and would quickly sign this into law. If that occurs, the state’s minimum wage would rise by 95 cents this year and by that same amount in 2015 and 2016.
Currently, there are 60,000 Kentuckians who earn $7.25 an hour or less, but there are several hundred thousand others whose hourly wage is just above it.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that a little more than half of those earning the minimum wage or less are female, and more than half are older than 22. Close to one-third works full-time, which means they bring home about $12,100 a year after factoring in taxes. About 20 percent of Kentucky’s children have at least one parent who makes the minimum wage.
These incremental increases to the minimum wage would give businesses more than enough time to adjust, and they also would give a much-needed boost to families who rely on this pay. I can’t think of a proposal that would do more this legislative session for them.
At the same time we in the House are looking to help these families, House Bill 1 also includes a provision that would update the limit that exempts many of Kentucky’s smallest businesses from the minimum wage law. Currently, businesses have to have gross earnings of less than $95,000, a figure that hasn’t changed since the 1970s, but under my bill, it would rise to $500,000.
Another positive aspect of House Bill 1 is that it would better protect pay equity among groups of employees whose jobs may be different but are considered equivalent when it comes to salary. This provision would strengthen our laws against wage discrimination because of such things as race or gender.
Immediately after my bill passed the House, the chamber also put its support behind another measure that would help tipped employees, who haven’t seen an increase in their base pay – $2.13 an hour – since 1991.
This group of workers includes waiters, waitresses and bartenders. If this bill becomes law, their hourly wage will rise incrementally until it is 70 percent of the minimum wage for non-tipped employees.
While these two bills were understandably the most prominent to make it through the House last week, I’m happy that another top priority of mine is poised to follow them soon.
Under House Bill 2, which cleared the House’s Education Committee early last week, the state would create a permanent scholarship fund that would help coal-county college students complete their four-year degree here close to home.
This would make permanent a pilot program that Governor Beshear created in 2012 with coal severance tax dollars. His budget also proposes increasing the scholarship amount available.
I will discuss this legislation more in-depth once it makes it through the House, which should be this week.
For now, I want to thank those who have let me know their views regarding legislation before the General Assembly. If you would like to join them, you can send me an email at Greg.Stumbo@lrc.ky.gov, or you can leave a message for me or any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.