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No raise for low-wage workers: Struggling families on losing end of Senate committee’s vote


May 25, 2017
By John Guidroz
Originally Posted on American Press

BATON ROUGE — Legislation that would have raised the state minimum wage by $1.25 per hour by 2019 stalled in a Senate committee Wednesday.

A motion to report Senate Bill 153, by Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, favorably failed with a 3-7 vote by the Senate Finance Committee. The vote was split along party lines, with GOP senators opposing it and Democrats supporting it. Similar legislation stalled in last year’s session.

The measure would have raised the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $8 by Jan. 1 and by 50 cents more by Jan. 1, 2019. Carter said the raise would help working poor families who are struggling to make ends meet. The last wage increase was in 2009.

“We’ve got to help them,” Carter said. “We all represent working poor.”

Several Republicans on the committee argued that raising the minimum wage would lead to jobs lost as employers would be forced to cut expenses. Democrats said residents need to earn more money to afford basic costs of living.

Sen. Gregory Tarver, D-Shreveport, said he didn’t understand how lawmakers could oppose raising the minimum wage but could support giving tax breaks to businesses.

Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, said the state should focus on improving its economy, which would lead to a rise in overall income. He said the government should not mandate what wage businesses should pay its employees.

Carter disagreed, saying the state still had to increase living expenses when the economy was in good shape.

Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, said those making minimum wage can take advantage of educational and training programs that can help them find higher-paying jobs.

“People can help themselves,” he said.

Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, said that increasing the minimum wage would boost the quality of life for low-income residents.

“There is something fundamentally wrong when a minimum wage hotel worker can’t afford to sleep in the same bed they made last night,” he said.

Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, said businesses should choose what they pay employees. She said industries like restaurants would lose employees if the wage is increased because they will be forced to cut costs.

Jan Moller, executive director of the Louisiana Budget Project, said the state “struggles with poverty,” with most living in working households. He mentioned the United Way’s most recent ALICE report, which showed 42 percent of residents living in poverty or right above poverty but struggling to afford basic expenses.

“The best way to help those households is to raise the minimum wage,” Moller said.

Moller said the wage increase would pump $180 million into the economy as people spend additional earned money at other businesses.

Jim Patterson, vice president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said increasing the minimum wage would cause economic consequences and would cancel out any advantages for low-income families.

Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, opposed the legislation.