ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Minnesota House of Representatives Friday passed a bill that would boost the state's minimum wage to $9.50 per hour in three stages by the year 2015.
The current state minimum wage is $6.15, a rate signed into law in 2005 by then-Governor Tim Pawlenty. But most workers in Minnesota qualify for the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.
On one side of the debate were those who contend people at the bottom of the pay scale need help keeping up with the cost of living, and note that many of the new jobs created during the recovery are not high paying positions.
"People are working harder and harder, and making less and less," Rep. Ryan Winkler, the Golden Valley Democrat who authored the bill.
He noted that if the federal minimum wage had been indexed for inflation since the late 1960's, it would actually already be well over $10 in 2013.
"It's about giving people the opportunity to take care of themselves and grow the economy, by getting a decent day's wage for decent day's work," Rep. Winkler told colleagues.
On the other end of the spectrum were those who argued that paying people $9.50 per hour would force some employers to lay off workers or close their businesses entirely.
"Those good intentions may very well mean you've got fewer people getting the opportunity to get the job that they so very much need," Rep. Jennifer Loon, an Eden Prairie Republican, asserted.
There were also smaller debates within the main one, about whether to carve out exceptions for different sets of workers.
Lawmakers voted to exempt hourly farm workers from the provision in the bill to have premium overtime pay kick in after 40 hours in a work week. Rural legislators said that farm work fluctuates greatly from week to week, and at times they can reach 40 hours in just three days.
But others asserted all workers should be treated equally, when it comes to the purposes of that overtime threshold. Most Minnesota companies currently follow federal labor laws, which dictate OT pay after 40 hours.
House member turned down the notion of freezing the minimum wage for tipped employees, such as food servers, if they make more than than $12 per hour in wages and tips combined.
The partisans enjoyed a brief respite from their rhetorical battle when an Abraham Lincoln impersonator visited the House Chamber very briefly.
Fritz Klein, who lives in Lincoln's birthplace of Springfield, Illinois, is visiting the Twin Cities to take part in the Minnesota History Center's Civil War Family Day set for Saturday afternoon.
What would Honest Abe make of the day's minimum wage squabble?
"In Lincoln's time the minimum wage was set by the worker and the boss. It was a negotiated thing, and not controlled at all by government," Klein said, slipping out of character to answer a serious question.
The Senate's version of the minimum wage bill sets the new rate at $7.75 per hour, 50 cents above the federal rate. If the bill is passed by the full Senate, the two competing versions would need to be reconciled in a House-Senate conference committee.
Both versions index the minimum to inflation, so it would increase over time as the consumer price index rises.
The House bill also requires larger employers to provide up to 12 weeks family leave to new mothers and fathers, in conformity with federal standards.
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