Minimum wage bill shelved

  • Creagan

A bill that would have increased the state’s minimum wage from $10.10 an hour to $15 an hour was killed at the last minute Friday.

The bill moving through the state Legislature was to have increased the minimum wage in increments throughout the course of four years, with the most recent draft proposing an increase to $12 an hour in 2020 and another increase to $15 an hour in 2023.

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However, a conference committee deciding on the final draft of the bill chose to defer the measure entirely because of concerns regarding its legality, said Rep. Richard Creagan, D-South Kona/Ka‘u, who co-introduced the bill. That decision was made less than two hours before the final deadline to finalize the draft.

Various drafts of the bill included a separate, lesser wage increase scale for workers who receive health care through their employers. The versions of the bill that included that scale would have increased the minimum wage of such workers to $12.50 hour.

Creagan said conferees had last-minute concerns about whether that separate scale was legal and whether it would cause unintended consequences, so lawmakers ultimately decided to remove the scale entirely.

“Changing a bill like that at the last minute just upsets the applecart, and people can’t wrap their heads around those changes sometimes,” Creagan said. “Sometimes it’s just easier to defer the bill.”

The failure of the bill was a surprise, Creagan said. He and other lawmakers previously said the bill would “definitely” pass this year, and told the Tribune-Herald mere hours before it died that it was “too important not to pass.”

Despite the setback, Creagan said he hopes the momentum the bill had will help lawmakers make a stronger push for another minimum wage hike next year and “aim higher” — perhaps higher than $15 an hour.

This year’s bill had always been a compromise, Creagan said. He explained that if the bill’s timeline was to stretch over four years, it would make more sense to end at $17 an hour, which he said will be closer to a livable wage in four years than $15 an hour.

“It was better than nothing; it was a good start,” Creagan conceded.

Whatever new bill is introduced next year likely will not include the health care scale that sank this year’s measure, Creagan said. Nor will it likely include a late addition to this year’s bill that would have increased the minimum wage of state employees to $17 an hour, which Creagan said appeared to be poor optics.

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“A year’s not that long a time,” Creagan said. “A lot of good bills die every year.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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