BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Senators rejected a proposal Thursday that could have increased the minimum wage in Louisiana, a vote that's expected to shelve the debate for the legislative session.
Without objection, the Senate Labor Committee killed the bill by Sen. Ben Nevers, a Bogalusa Democrat. The House Labor Committee also earlier had rejected a similar measure to raise the minimum wage above the federal hourly rate of $7.25.
Under Nevers' proposal, voters in a statewide election would have decided whether to require businesses to pay at least $9.50 an hour. The proposal would exempt small businesses.
Nevers said many people who work for minimum wage work hard, yet still struggle to make ends meet. He said he has heard of people who would rather stay on welfare than work for minimum wage because they would be worse off with the job.
"There's something wrong with that," he said.
Business organizations testified against the measure, saying a raise would hurt the economy by causing job losses and higher prices for goods and services.
Will Green, of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said while an increase in the minimum wage would provide more spending money, prices would increase as well, causing minimum wage earners' condition to remain the same.
"It's a break-even effect," he said.
Dawn Starns, Louisiana director of the National Federation for Independent Business, said the raise would hurt small business owners who already are struggling from the recession and new requirements from the federal health care law.
"There's a lot more on a small business owner," she said.
Supporters came from labor organizations and the left-leaning Louisiana Budget Project, which said a wage increase would help the working poor in a state known for its poverty.
Jan Moller, director of the Louisiana Budget Project, said Louisiana has the third-highest poverty rate in the country. According to a study by LBP, a family of three living off one minimum wage salary is $4,700 below the federal poverty line.
David Gray, who is also with the project, said a full-time minimum wage earner makes $15,080 a year before taxes. The federal poverty line for a family of three is $19,790, he noted.
Supporters of the bill argued that there is widespread support among voters for increasing the minimum wage.
Erika Zucker, of the Workplace Justice Project at Loyola University Law School, said a recent poll by LSU Public Policy Research Lab found 73 percent of Louisianians support an increase.
However, members of the Senate Labor Committee sided with business opponents. After a pause, Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, made a motion to defer the bill, which went unopposed.
Chairman A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, said after the hearing that the measure would not help the working poor. He said supporters did not provide data to back up their argument that a higher minimum wage would mean less government assistance.
"It doesn't solve the problem. It shifts the problem," he said.
Senate Bill 123 can be found at www.legis.la.gov