LA Minimum Wage Increase Stalled As Negotiations Continue

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A push by Gov. John Bel Edwards to boost Louisiana's minimum wage remains stalled in the Senate as the Democratic governor continues negotiating with lawmakers, trying to win support for the bill.

         The proposal to raise the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, sponsored by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, was set for a Monday hearing in the Senate Finance Committee. But the hearing was scrapped.

         Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said the governor's office requested a delay.

         "We are still having conversations with legislators, but we will still move the bill," Carbo said in an email. "We don't have a date set yet."

         The proposal narrowly won support in the Senate labor committee, but was sent to the Finance Committee because it would raise the pay of some state workers, carrying a price tag for the state budget.

         Peterson's bill would raise Louisiana's minimum wage from the $7.25 per hour federal level to $8 in 2017 and $8.50 a year later.

         Business groups oppose the wage hike, saying it could force companies to lay off workers because they can't afford the higher salary costs.

         The vote in the Senate labor committee split along party lines, with Democrats supporting the wage hike and Republicans opposing it. That could forecast trouble in the Finance Committee, which has a majority of GOP members.

         But the Democratic chairman of the Finance Committee, Sen. Eric LaFleur, suggested the bill may have difficulty for a less partisan reason. He said his committee has regularly refused to advance legislation to the full Senate for debate if it would increase state expenses without a source of financing to pay for it.

         "We'll see, but traditionally we don't let bills out that have a cost for which funds haven't been provided," said LaFleur, D-Ville Platte.

         Louisiana is grappling with deep and persistent budget troubles and faces an estimated $600 million shortfall in the 2016-17 fiscal year that begins July 1.

         A financial analysis of the minimum wage bill estimates pay increases for about 200 state workers would cost $204,000 in the upcoming budget year, while state agency costs to enforce the minimum wage would add another nearly $44,000.

         Even if it got out of the committee, the legislation is expected to face a tough road to passage in the majority Republican Legislature. Edwards, in office since January, hopes that having a governor involved could make the difference.

         "We are working to move that bill, because it's an important way to address the situation in the state of Louisiana where we have too many families living in poverty, too many children living in poverty," Edwards said recently when asked about the bill's chances.

         Currently, 29 states have minimum wages above the federal level, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte

         For more information about Senate Bill 269 click here



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