KET Legislative Coverage

Day 22: Democratic and Republican Priorities Advance

by Renee Shaw | 02/07/14 2:54 PM

Legislators debated for three hours Thursday before approving a bill to increase the state's minimum wage and to prevent wage discrimination.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s House Bill 1 would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour over a three-year period. Kentucky lawmakers last raised the minimum wage in 2007.

Republican representatives blasted the plan as a job-killing proposition that burdens local governments and school districts with millions of dollars in unfunded mandates. But Rep. Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) said the measure would give a vital boost to full-time minimum-wage workers in the state who bring home only about $12,000 a year after taxes. He cited research showing that women comprise 70 percent of the Kentuckians who earn minimum wage or less; more than half are over the age of 22, and more than 30 percent work full time.

A floor amendment added to HB 1 yesterday would exempt small businesses with gross sales under $500,000 from having to pay the elevated minimum wage.

House Republicans voiced opposition to the wage hike measure because of its potential impact on the workforce and its interference in marketplace economics. Several GOP members commented on the costs school districts and local governments will incur to pay the higher wages.

Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown) argued that when lawmakers boosted the minimum wage seven years ago there wasn't a recession, while the current economy remains sluggish. He said Kentucky currently has the sixth worst jobless rate in the nation, and that HB 1 will worsen that ranking. Hoover presented information from a Legislative Research Commission economist about the impact of the wage hike proposal.

Hoover also cited a study that indicates increasing the minimum wage will increase unemployment, saying more than 13,000 Kentuckians would lose their jobs, according to his numbers.

After the lengthy debate, HB 1 passed the House on a 54-44 party-line vote. The chamber also passed House Bill 191, which would increase the minimum pay for tipped service workers who currently make $2.13 an hour. The measure sponsored by Rep. Will Coursey (D- Symsonia) would bump those employees to $3 per hour this year, then incrementally increase the rate each year until it reaches 70 percent of the state minimum wage for non-tipped workers. HB 191 advanced to the Senate on a vote of 57-40.

Limiting Gubernatorial Authority
After lengthy and impassioned debate, the Republican majority sent its top priority, Senate Bill 1, to the House. The proposed constitutional amendment would allow voters to decide whether legislators should have the power to void regulations and orders issued by the executive branch. Sen. Joe Bowen (R-Owensboro), a co-sponsor of the bill, said the measure returns policy-making authority to the legislature.

Sen. Julian Carroll (D-Frankfort) intimately understands both sides of the issue. He served five terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives before becoming governor in 1975. Now from his state senate seat, Carroll said the legislature's struggle for equality with the executive branch has been hard fought, but he cautioned lawmakers from going too far. He said remedies exist that respect the separation of powers and he urged aggrieved colleagues to use them.

Senate Minority Leader R. J. Palmer (D-Winchester) insisted that the legislature already has the power to challenge administrative regulations - and that to tilt the balance of power would be a perilous misadventure. Majority Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) characterized the Administrative Regulations Review Subcommittee, the panel that sometimes finds regulations deficient, as a toothless tiger.

After a debate that spanned an hour and 20 minutes, SB 1 passed by a largely partisan vote of 24-14.

Legislative Update tonight will recap this week's House and Senate activities. Tune in at the special time of 11:30 p.m. on KET. And you can follow me any time @ReneeKET on Twitter.