BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana's governor ran on it back in 2015: boosting the minimum wage and ensuring equal pay for women. Three years later, he's still trying to keep those promises.
"I'm committed to this. It's the right thing to do. I didn't just run on it as an issue," Governor John Bel Edwards told a panel of Senate lawmakers Thursday.
That panel, made up of four Democrats and three Republicans, approved a series of bills dealing with wages, sending them to the Senate floor. From there, they face an uphill battle. In 2016 and 2017, similar bills failed to reach the governor's desk. They were opposed by business lobbyists and many Republicans. A year later, things have not changed.
"Many of our members do tell us they already pay above the minimum wage, so we just oppose the government trying to get involved in the process," said Dawn Starns, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.
One of the bills approved by the Senate panel increases the minimum wage. Currently, Louisiana uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The bill by Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, boosts that to $8 per hour in 2019 and $8.50 per hour in 2020.
Supporters say families cannot live on the current wage, and believe the "raise" for a projected 190,000 workers could help. "If we're going to talk about family values, I suspect we ought to actually value families," Edwards said.
Meanwhile, business groups say it could be hard on business owners and force layoffs. "In some rural areas of the state, they don't have that luxury. They have to work within their means," Starns said.
Another bill would require that state contractors pay the same amount to women and men for equal work. Businesses worry it could be setting them up for lawsuits and litigation. The governor says the bill promotes fairness. "We have too many children living in poverty today needlessly and they could rise up out of poverty, have a better life, have more opportunity for success, if only we provide their mothers what they deserve to be paid," he said.
The bills now head to the Senate floor for consideration.