Florida among states whose lawmakers didn't boost minimum wage

Naples Daily NewsMay 12, 2014 

NAPLES -- When it comes to hiking the minimum wage, some states aren't waiting for the federal government to act.

Three states recently agreed to increase their mandated hourly wage to $10.10 per hour. A proposal to do the same for virtually all workers in Florida went nowhere this legislative session, however.

Federal legislation would raise wages to that amount in three steps, and index them to inflation. The legislation isn't dead yet, but so far Republicans have blocked it, keeping it from debate on the Senate floor.

Not only would the measure have to move ahead in the U.S. Senate, but the Republican-led House would have to take it up, which many political observers see as unlikely.

In Florida, companion bills to raise the state's minimum wage in the Florida House and Senate died after never being taken up in legislative committee. Nearly 40 states considered minimum wage bills during 2014, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The federal wage hike has often been described as a "political football."

Republicans have generally argued the wage increase would only hurt the nation's still recovering economy, killing jobs because employers couldn't afford to have as many workers, while Democrats have advocated it as a way to help the working poor.

A report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office earlier this year estimated the hike would cost 500,000 jobs by 2016, but it also found the increase could raise the income for about 16.5 million workers by $31 million, with the potential to pull nearly 1 million people out of poverty.

The increase is a priority for President Barack Obama and his party. Recent polls have shown strong public support for raising the minimum wage, which hasn't increased since 2009. The federal minimum wage now stands at $7.25 an hour -- 68 cents less than Florida's.

More than 20 states, and the District of Columbia, have minimum wages that are higher than the federal one.

In Florida, the minimum wage is adjusted annually for inflation and last rose by 14 cents in January. It equates to $16,494 annually for a year-round worker.

State Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, whose district includes a sliver of Collier County, sponsored the bill in the Florida Senate to raise the state's mandated wage to $10.10 an hour for all workers, including tipped employees.

Frustrated by inaction on his legislation, he and several other supporters lived for five days last month on a typical weekly salary for minimum wage earners, which is about $317 before taxes, to bring attention to what he describes as a dire situation.

As a last-ditch effort, supporters in the waning days of the legislative session attempted to get the measure attached to another bill by amending it, but it never got a hearing on the Senate floor, Bullard said.

"I'm a strong supporter, a strong advocate," he said. "We'll file again next session, we'll continue to push."

Florida should follow the lead of other states that have made the jump, he said.

In March, Connecticut became the first state to pass legislation establishing a $10.10 minimum wage. Maryland and Hawaii followed.

The proposal to increase the federal minimum wage has some big opponents with political clout, including trade groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association and the National Federation of Independent Business.

On the flip side, nearly 1,000 businesses and business organizations across the country have signed a Business for a Fair Minimum Wage Statement in favor of the federal hike. Signors include well-known companies, such as Costco and Ben & Jerry's, as well as smaller businesses including independently owned Ace Hardware stores outside Florida.

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