Louisiana’s unemployment trust fund is expected to be (Photo credit: Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)
Republican lawmakers on a state House panel killed a measure that would have established a $10 per hour minimum wage in Louisiana and increased to $14 by 2028.
House Bill 374, sponsored by Rep. Ed Larvadain, D-Alexandria, failed to pass the House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations in a 5-9 vote along party lines Wednesday.
The bill was just the latest attempt over the years that Louisiana lawmakers have rejected despite independent polls showing overwhelming support for a minimum wage increase from Democrat and Republican voters in the state.
Louisiana doesn’t have its own minimum wage in state law and instead falls back on the federal rate, which was last adjusted to $7.25 per hour back in 2009. Larvadain told the committee that 30 states, including Arkansas and Florida, have since established a minimum wage greater than the federal minimum.
Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Schriever, and other Republicans on the committee agreed that $7.25 is not a livable wage but argued the “free market” should determine how wages are set.
“I don’t see that a bill to raise the state’s minimum wage solves those problems, especially not solving it as the free market can,” Amedee said.
Testifying in support of the bill, East Baton Rouge Metro-Parish Councilman Darryl Hurst argued the increase is about lifting communities out of poverty.
“How can you sit on a labor committee and publicly say that ‘I agree that nobody should make $7.25’ but not pass a law that prevents it?” Hurst asked, addressing Amedee directly. “It’s like somebody who says, ‘I disagree with slavery, but I don’t think it’s up to me to tell somebody how they should run their plantation.’”
Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, said the minimum wage is for high school students and people just getting out of prison.
“Minimum wage is intended as a beginning,” he said. “Matter of fact, if there was no minimum wage, I would bet you more people would have jobs.”
Crews quoted Ronald Reagan, citing the oft-repeated claim that minimum wage hikes hurt the economy and lead to unemployment. He also cherry-picked passages from a 2017 Atlantic article, one that actually goes on to state more recent studies have debunked some of the old theory and divided experts in the field.
Peter Robins-Brown, executive director of Louisiana Progress, told the committee the “scare tactics” Crews used are false. One of the benefits of Louisiana having rejected a minimum wage for so long is that it’s now clear doing so hasn’t helped the state, he said.
“A lot of the things we heard have been discredited with immense amounts of research,” Robins-Brown said.
Claims of low-income workers not doing enough to help themselves often come from those who have no idea what it’s like to be poor, Robins-Brown added. His comment prompted a retort from Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, who said she grew up in poverty with a father who was a police officer and mother who was a teacher.
“I definitely know what it’s like,” Horton said.
Jim Patterson of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry testified against the $10 per hour minimum, saying it is unnecessary because no one in the private sector is actually making that low of a wage. He was joined by Dawn McVea, with the Louisiana chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
The Louisiana Budget Project’s Jan Moller gave brief testimony packed with hard data in support of Larvadain’s bill. Moller has been unsuccessfully lobbying for a minimum wage increase for 12 years.
“I wish I could say things have stayed the same, but things have actually gotten worse,” Moller said.
If the federal minimum wage had simply kept up with inflation since 1968, it would be the equivalent of $14 per hour today. Because the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation, an hour of work in 2023 is worth half of what it was 55 years ago, he said.
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