Senate panel hears bill raising Washington's minimum wage

OLYMPIA, Wash. - A politically charged proposal to raise Washington's highest-in-the-nation state minimum wage to $12 an hour over four years drew extended debate and a capacity crowd to a Senate committee hearing.

House Bill 1355 had a hearing Monday and has a Wednesday deadline to get voted out of committee in the Republican-led Senate.

The bill to raise minimum wage via a series of annual 50-cent increases passed the Democrat-controlled House in a party-line vote earlier in March. Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said he is weighing whether the bill should get past the Commerce and Labor committee he chairs.

The state's current minimum wage of $9.47 an hour is already the highest in the nation, but that wage would be phased in over the next four years under the new bill.

"If you work full time, if you work hard, you should be able to pay your own way," said bill sponsor Rep Jessyn Farrell, D-Lake Forest Park.

Olympia restaurant worker Nick Powell joined scores of other minimum wage earners at a packed senate hearing.

"$12 an hour statewide will begin to help working class families like mine to escape the cycle of poverty and provide the opportunity to have a better life," Powell said.

He also has the support of several small-business owners, including Molly Moon Nietzel. She Owns Molly Moon's ice cream and already pays $15 an hour, which is the new Seattle minimum wage come Wednesday.

"And I've seen in my own business raising wages to $15 in the back of the house and getting there in the front of the house soon has actually improved my business," Nietzel said.

But there's opposition from fellow small business owners such as Madelin White who has a cosmetics store and day spa who used to have three outlets. "This one is going to push me over the each. I'm down one fulltime and part-time employee and then the rest of them lease from me."

The measure has passed the Democratic-controlled House. Sponsors are just glad to be getting a hearing in the Republican-controlled senate. Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane,is the Commerce & Labor Committee Chair.

"This is an important discussion," Baumgartner said. "The public needs to weigh in and we need to hear from both folks who would like to increase the minimum wage and those it might impact and hurt employment."

Baumgartner is the gate keeper. As committee chair he controls the bill's future.

"That's true," he said. "The way the committee system works that could be true. We could just not bring it out for a vote and the bill would be dead for this year. That is a possibility."

Time is running out. The deadline for the bill to get out of committee is Wednesday at 5 p.m.

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