BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A bill that aims to raise the minimum wage in Louisiana cleared its first hurdle Thursday at the Capitol.
The bill just barely advanced out of the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations with a vote of 4-3.
Louisiana currently follows the federal minimum wage of $7.25. SB 269 would establish a minimum wage in Louisiana and increase it gradually over the next two years. In 2017 it would grow to $8 and then to $8.50 in 2018.
Gov. John Bel Edwards testified before the committee, throwing his support behind the legislation which he called "modest but meaningful."
"Seven dollars and a quarter per hour is simply not a meaningful minimum wage," said Edwards, who explained that it is more than just high school students in minimum wage jobs, but also individuals supporting whole families. He said 40 percent of working families currently do not make enough money to cover basic monthly expenses.
"People have complained about the cost of state services So why do we needlessly keep more people than necessary in need of those services in the first place," Edwards told the committee.
This is not the first time the governor has expressed support for raising the minimum wage. He pushed for it during the campaign and also made mention of it during his address before lawmakers at the start of the legislative session.
"Who amongst us can live on 15,000 a year. I want you to stand up. I'm waiting," she said before the committee.
Representatives of the small business community expressed concern about the bill while testifying before the committee. They said that raising the minimum wage could cause them to freeze pay raises or cut jobs all together.
"You're going to hurt the very people that you're positioning yourself to say you're trying to help," said Dawn Starns, the state director for the National Federation of Business, who also questioned how lawmakers could "in good conscience" make small businesses pay more on wages after also raising taxes on businesses during the special session.
Starns also indicated that 90 percent of her organization's members opposed legislation creating the minimum wage in the state.
"If I'm buying from company X and he's got minimum wage people and his costs increase, he's going to charge me more. Therefore that effects my bottom-line," said one Baton Rouge businessman.
It next heads to the full Senate for a vote. It is expected to face an uphill battle if it makes it to the House.