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Louisiana Gov. Edwards will again push to raise minimum wage; critics say change would kill jobs


March 2, 2020
By David Jacobs
Originally Posted on The Center Square

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is calling for a $10 minimum wage in Louisiana, renewing an effort to raise the state’s pay floor that has been stymied since the beginning of his first term.

“We know that an overwhelming majority of the people of Louisiana agree with us on this,” Edwards said Monday.

Edwards endorsed a bill by state Sen. Troy Carter, a New Orleans Democrat, that would raise the state minimum wage to $9 an hour on Jan. 1 of next year and $10 an hour on July 1. The legislation provides for annual adjustments thereafter tied to increases in the Consumer Price Index.

Louisiana does not have a state minimum wage, so the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour applies. Proponents say a higher minimum would boost consumers' buying power, reduce the need for public taxpayer assistance for the working poor, and help people climb out of poverty.

Some economists argue raising the minimum wage leads businesses to hire fewer workers. In opposing last year’s effort, Dawn Starns, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said raising the minimum wage could lead to a net loss of 36,000 jobs in the state. Jim Patterson with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry said that while large companies perhaps could absorb a higher mandated wage minimum, smaller firms could have more trouble.

Critics also warn that raising the minimum wage would lead to increased prices on consumers and benefit reductions for workers.

But Edwards has pointed to Arkansas, saying Louisiana’s neighbor has raised its minimum wage multiple times with no apparent harm to its economy. Carter’s current proposal is more ambitious than the $9 wage floor Edwards supported last year.

Asked why this year’s effort might succeed, given the past failures, Edwards said the legislature’s new members might not have formed an opinion on the issue yet. He said he is urging the public to contact their legislators to request action.

According to the 2019 Louisiana Survey conducted by the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication, 81 percent of Louisiana residents favor raising the minimum wage to $8.50. Support dropped to 59 percent when asked about a $15 minimum wage. The survey did not ask about wages between those two.

Edwards also supports legislation to protect employees who discuss their pay and ban employers from asking about salary history, hoping to fight pay discrimination and close the pay gap between men and women.

Last year, business lobbyists argued encouraging workers to discuss their salaries would lead to workplace disputes. They said the federal National Labor Relations Act already guarantees the right to discuss pay, so a state-level law was redundant.

Edwards also backs measures by Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, that would ban auto insurance companies from setting rates based on certain factors other than safe driving, including gender, military deployment and the fact that a policy holder is a widow.

Republicans are pushing changes to the state’s civil legal system that they say will lead to lower auto insurance rates. Edwards has expressed skepticism about whether such efforts actually help consumers, but says he’s open to having conversations about, for example, lowering the state’s highest-in-the-nation $50,000 threshold for a jury trial.

The administration also plans to call for greater workplace accommodations for pregnant women and review of the state’s rate of maternal deaths. Other legislative priorities will be announced in the coming days, officials said.

The legislative session begins March 9 and must end by June 1.