UPDATE: Minimum Wage Bills Fail in House Committee

UPDATE Thursday 5 p.m.: Several bills aimed at raising the minimum wage in Louisiana failed to make it out of a house committee.

House Bill 356 would have establish a minimum wage at $8.25 beginning on July 1, 2015, raise it to $9 on July 1, 2016 and then allow for it to be adjusted annually on July 1, 2017 based on the Consumer Price Index.

That bill failed 6-10 in the Labor and Industrial Relations Committee.

The house bills, sponsored by Rep. Marcus Hunter, also failed to make it out of committee.

Those bills would have raised the minimum wage in Ouachita Parish, West Monroe and Monroe.

Original story: 
BATON ROUGE -- Monroe Representative Marcus Hunter of District 17 is pushing for a new set of minimum wage bills in the house Thursday.

"We have several different ones so we hope to reach a compromise," he said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Some are aiming to raise minimum wage -- ideally to about $10 -- and others to give cities and parishes the flexibility to set their own minimum wages.

"We all know that raising minimum wage builds productivity and builds morale," said Hunter. "It also provides for a generation of more revenue for a local area."

Hunter says he pursued the bills because many of his constituents said $7.25 is not being enough to make ends meet. In addition to some bills dealing with raising the minimum wage, others aim to give local governments the freedom to decide.

"It doesn't say that you have to set your minimum wage to $8, $9 or $10," said Hunter. "There's no reason why a city like New Orleans, a big tourist capital, and Baton Rouge, Shreveport, or Monroe, should all be set at the same wage as a smaller town, they should have the flexibility."

He says he also has an issue with there being no state law on the books regarding minimum wage, an issue he says he hopes to find the answer to on Thursday.

"One of the biggest problems in Louisiana is we don't allow the markets to dictate what they can pay workers," he said. "I don't understand that and the fact that no one has ever brought that to be passed and signed into law, is beyond comprehension. I think that's inherently flawed in the law in Louisiana.

Sue Nicholson with the Monroe Chamber of Commerce said that half of the states in the nation doesn't have minimum wage laws on the books, so they just adhere to the federal guidelines.

Some opponents to the bill, including local chambers of commerce and Mayor Jamie Mayo -- have some concerns about the bills impacting small business. Hunter says he wants to seek a compromise with the city of Monroe, between him and the current administration.

"When minimum wage goes up, for small employers, they have one of two options: raise prices, or decrease labor. lay people off," said Nicholson. "The economy is recovering,do we really want to put some additional pressure on small businesses to cut jobs right now?"

As a businessman, Hunter says he understands and is willing to look at options to help small business. Marcus says if these bills were to pass, he's willing to look at tax rebates and write-offs for small business, or giving them a few years to get affairs in order.

"I have no desire to bankrupt anyone. I have no desire to scale back anyone's business," he said.

Another problem opponents see is called indexing, which means moving current and skilled employees who earned raises just above minimum wage, to a pay above the higher new minimum wage.

"Then all of those other workers that may be between the $7.25 and new minimum wage are also going to have to be increased at some amount above that minimum wage employee," Nicholson said.

Opponents say there's stronger ways to shore up a recovering economy and take off the pressure.

"If a minimum wage worker were to get some additional training, then they can make not just min wage, but far more than that," said Nicholson. "We're looking at something that is more permanent, portable -- where an employee can take that skill with them."

Nicholson says when you look at total workforce, it may be just over 1 percent of all employees who are minimum wage.

"Is it really worth raising min wage for everyone? Or does it make more sense in a policy stand point to focus on longer term solutions, again which is skill and training and further education that move them out of minimum wage and into more prosperous jobs.," said Nicholson.

On Thursday, Hunter says he hopes to keep pushing and fighting for the bills, hopeful for a surprise.

"If we can move forward trying to get a number that we all can live with, and we'd be progressive about it, and take everybody into account, because I don't want it to be this animosity and adversarial thing between the city of Monroe and the city workers, and employers," he said.

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