Bill to raise La. minimum wage fails in committee

Lauren Langlois, Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Louisiana won't boost its minimum wage for hourly workers.

The House labor committee rejected bills Thursday that would have set the state minimum wage higher than the hourly federal rate of $7.25 and would have allowed local governments to set their own minimum wage.

The committee had several bills for consideration dealing with raising the minimum wage. All were rejected or deferred.

Up first, the committee voted 10-6 against Rep. Herbert Dixon's measure that would have made $8.25 per hour the minimum wage next year.

Dixon, D-Alexandria, said raising the minimum wage would help the working class and, as a result, the economy. He said the current minimum wage was inadequate for a family of two because a full-time minimum wage worker makes $15,730 a year.

Opponents said the proposal would hurt businesses and their employees by leading to layoffs.

Stan Harris with the Louisiana Restaurant Association said the wage hike would hurt the economy by driving up costs of goods and services.

"That's just not practical," he said.

He suggested the state focus on training unskilled workers so they can get better jobs.

Dawn Starns, Louisiana director of the National Federation of Independent Business, spoke against the bill, arguing a higher minimum wage would hurt small businesses struggling from the recession.

"Business owners are operating on a thin margin," she said.

Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, spoke up to oppose the bill citing a study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The study found that a minimum wage hike in American Samoa led to job losses.

David Gray, of the left-leaning Louisiana Budget Project, disagreed, saying studies have shown that a higher minimum wage leads to higher employee retention, which he said saves businesses money.

The Louisiana Budget Project was one of several organizations backing Dixon's bill, which also had testimony from employees living on low wages.

Austin Washington, 28, has a temporary job making about $8 an hour, which he said is not enough to support himself and his child.

"We need help. That's it," he said.

A minimum wage hike has been championed by Democrats in Louisiana after President Barack Obama pushed the issue nationally. Votes in committee Thursday largely divided down party lines, with one Democrat voting against both bills and no Republicans supporting the raises in minimum wage.

After voting down Dixon's bill, the committee voted 9-5 against a measure by Rep. Jared Brossett, D-New Orleans, whose bill would have made $10.10 per hour the state minimum wage next year.

The committee also voted 8-6 against a bill that would have allowed local governments to set their own minimum wage and a constitutional amendment that would have set the minimum wage at 5 cents higher than the federal minimum wage.