Senate committee approves bill to raise minimum wage

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A Senate panel advanced a bill Thursday boosting the minimum wage in Louisiana.

"This is about decency. This is about giving people the ability to care for themselves," said bill sponsor, Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans. "We talk about benefits. We talk about people being on the federal government's payroll. Here's an opportunity to give a person the pride to go out and work for themselves."

Carter's legislation, which is backed by the governor, would boost the minimum wage to $8 per hour in 2018 and then to $8.50 starting in 2019. Louisiana currently uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

The bill made it through committee on a party-line vote, with Democrats voting in support and Republicans voting against.

Supporters argued that, contrary to popular belief, minimum wage workers are not teenagers looking for extra cash, but are also parents with families to support. Less than 10 percent of minimum wage earners are teenagers, according to the Economic Policy Institute think-tank.

"You can't feed a dog, you can't care for an animal with the kind of money we're expecting the citizens of Louisiana to take care of their children," said Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans.

However, business lobbyists fired back, saying the minimum wage is just for entry level jobs. A representative for small business argued that after years of tax hikes, they cannot take much more.

"The cost of doing business has gone up the past three years in this state, and so it makes it very difficult for a small business owner to keep their doors open," said Dawn Starns, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

After the bill advanced out of committee, the governor released a statement praising the committee for advancing what he called a "modest, but meaningful" increase to the minimum wage. "If we say that family values are critical to our way of life here in Louisiana, it's time to start valuing the hard-working families who contribute a great deal to our communities," he continued.

This is not the first go-around for such legislation. A similar bill got through one committee last year, but then floundered in the Senate. It never made it to the House. If the party-line vote is any indication, it could be uphill battle for the pay raise to become law this session as well.

The bill next heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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