Minimum wage hike passes Delaware Senate

DOVER — By a vote of 11-8, Delaware senators passed a bill that would hike the state’s minimum wage to $10.25 over four years Wednesday.

The vote, picked up after the bill was tabled Tuesday as debate dragged on, followed an hour of sometimes-heated discussion marked by sharp ideological differences.

All Democrats except one supported the bill while every Republican present voted against it.

Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover, was recorded as “not voting,” and Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, who was opposed to the proposal Tuesday, was absent.

The bill will now go to the House. Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, has not taken a public stance on it.

Currently at $8.25, the minimum wage would be increased in four 50-cent increments from 2017 to 2020 under the bill.

Supporters argue the increase would help lift people out of poverty, while opponents say it would drive small businesses to bankruptcy, force prices to increase and lead to companies laying off workers.

Neither side appeared convinced by the others’ claims.

Karen Peterson

Karen Peterson

“The arguments against minimum wage have been the same for 40 years. For 40 years,” said Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, a former Delaware Department of Labor official.

The restaurant industry has seen steady job growth over the past 25 years, despite nine minimum wage hikes, she said.

But others pushed back, saying a higher wage floor would backfire and cripple business growth.

“This isn’t going to help anyone. It ups the price of the milk and bread and therefore those you’d like to help will end up paying more, and their buying power goes down,” said Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel. “How does that work? Do you not get that?”

In addition to the senators, seven business owners or representatives spoke on the floor over two days, all arguing against the proposal. Business groups like the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce have mobilized against the increase, urging employers to call Democratic senators and express their thoughts.

Garrett Grier, owner of Milford’s Duck In Car Wash, spoke Wednesday. He noted the increase would have an adverse effect on his business. He would have to strip many of the amenities and run a bare-bones operation, lay off a large number of his 60 workers or sell the company if the bill passes, he testified.

“All these things are things I have to suck up at the end of the day because you guys, a certain percentage of you,

HOW THEY VOTED The Senate approved the minimum wage increase bill (Senate Bill 39) by a vote of 11-8, with one not voting. Yes — Blevins, Ennis, Hall-Long, Henry, Marshall, McBride, McDowell, Peterson, Poore, Sokola, Townsend. No — Bonini, Cloutier, Lavelle, Lawson, Lopez, Pettyjohn, Richardson, Simpson. Not voting — Bushweller. Absent — Hocker.

HOW THEY VOTED
The Senate approved the minimum wage increase bill (Senate Bill 39) by a vote of 11-8, with one not voting.
Yes — Blevins, Ennis, Hall-Long, Henry, Marshall, McBride, McDowell, Peterson, Poore, Sokola, Townsend.
No — Bonini, Cloutier, Lavelle, Lawson, Lopez, Pettyjohn, Richardson, Simpson.
Not voting — Bushweller.
Absent — Hocker.

think this is worth doing,” Mr. Grier said.

“I’m telling you, we can take care of our people. I can take care of my employees. I have very little turnover. I think there’s many small-business owners out there that would say the same thing.”

According to a report from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, about half the 3.3 million people making minimum wage or less in 2013 were 25 or younger. Opponents of the bill argued the market lets good workers earn what they are worth.

But there was little common ground among Democrats and Republicans during the debate.

Language tying the minimum wage to the federal Cost of Living Adjustment after 2020 was removed through an amendment created to ensure the bill had the necessary 11 votes.

After the vote, main sponsor Sen. Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington, said he was confident the proposed increase will pass the House.

“I’m pleased that the Delaware State Senate today recognized the workers who form the foundation of our economic pyramid,” he said. “That recognition will go a long way in strengthening those that try to survive and work day to day with families, and in my opinion, it’s a proud day for Delaware.”

Eighteen states have minimum wage levels higher than Delaware’s current floor, which is $1 more than the federal level. Massachusetts and Vermont are the only states that are phasing in rates higher than $10.25, although Washington, D.C., is also doing so.

Lawmakers butted heads at a few points, and frustration was visible from several senators.

“For us to tell someone who runs a business, and that’s what a couple people have done here today, that they don’t know what they’re talking about, is disrespectful,” said Sen. Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley.

“I don’t think anybody has said that nobody knows what they’re talking about, so we don’t need any lectures from that side of the room,” Sen. Peterson shot back.

In the end, the vote was a partisan one, illustrating a large divide between lawmakers.

The bill could be assigned to one of several House committees and must pass muster there before the full chamber can vote on it. After today, the legislature goes on break until March 8.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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