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COLUMN: State Representative Terry Mills provides Frankfort update

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 Seven years after the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to raise the state’s minimum wage, the Kentucky House of Representatives returned to the issue on Thursday when it passed legislation that follows a similar path taken by that 2007 law.

This is an issue that is drawing a lot of attention across the country. The National Conference of State Legislatures says 23 states considered raising it 2013, and Kentucky is one of 20 doing the same this year, with more expected in the months ahead.

Those who would benefit from House Bill 1 include the 60,000 Kentucky workers who earn the minimum wage or less, plus several hundred thousand others whose hourly pay is just above that threshold.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 percent of those earning $7.25 an hour or less in Kentucky are female, and a little more than half are older than 22. Almost a third works full-time, meaning they earn about $15,000 annually before taxes. Another study from a year ago found that one in five Kentucky children has a parent making the minimum wage.

Surveys indicate there is a lot of support to increase these workers’ pay. Last year, for example, Gallup found that three out of four Americans favored raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour.

Under House Bill 1, it would rise by 95 cents a year until 2016, which mirrors the three-step approach the state took between 2007 and 2009.

This legislation also would expand the exemption that keeps many of the state’s smallest businesses from falling under the minimum wage law. That exemption is now $95,000 in gross sales – a figure that has not changed since the 1970s – but it would rise to $500,000 if this bill is approved, meaning many more businesses would qualify.

House Bill 1 also would broaden the rules against wage discrimination, better ensuring workers are not penalized financially because of such things as their gender or race.

Shortly after the House sent this legislation to the Senate, it voted for a companion bill that would raise the minimum wage for tipped employees, a group that includes waiters, waitresses, bellhops and bartenders. Their base wage – $2.13 an hour – has been the same since 1991.

House Bill 191 calls for that figure to rise incrementally until it is 70 percent of the minimum wage for non-tipped employees.

As we move forward with our work, I want to continue encouraging you to let me know your thoughts on the issues being debated by the General Assembly. If you would like to write, my address is Room 329G, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; you can email me at Terry.Mills@lrc.ky.gov.

You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.