SALEM — Oregon House Democrats voted Monday night to send a bill raising the state’s minimum wage to the House floor for a final vote.
After five hours of testimony from businesspeople, workers, union representatives and civil rights organizations, the House Committee on Business and Labor voted late along party lines, 6-5, to send Senate Bill 1532 for a vote by the state House of Representatives.
The bill was in the House just two workdays after Senate Democrats gave it their approval last week. If passed, Gov. Kate Brown has indicated she’ll sign it into law, and a series of minimum hourly pay increases would begin to take effect in July.
Acting quickly, House lawmakers took up the bill Monday that would split the state into three regions, each with its own minimum wage that would be increased each year until mid-2022.
Earlier Monday, the concept received its first endorsement from the governor, who has made securing a minimum wage hike a definitive policy for her first year as governor.
“I understand raising the minimum wage will have an impact on our small businesses,” Brown said. “These costs are real. But I think we need to weigh those against the long-term societal costs of a generation raised in poverty.”
The House Committee on Business and Labor held two hearings on the bill Monday, just two workdays after the Senate voted along party lines to pass the bill.
During her testimony, Brown sought to take credit for the proposal’s movement in the statehouse, calling the latest version of Senate Bill 1532 “the Senate amendments to my proposal.”
She also reminded committee members she brought together a collection of business groups and unions to negotiate a proposal. Out of those talks, Brown proposed a two-tiered minimum wage, with Portland workers getting $15.52 an hour by 2022 and everyone else making $13.50 an hour.
That concept was ultimately replaced by the one now moving forward, proposed by Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland.
Dembrow’s proposal would split rural and nonrural Oregon. Minimum wage workers in Jefferson, Crook and 16 other rural or “frontier” counties would get $12.50 an hour starting in July 2022, while those in Deschutes County, considered nonrural, would earn $13.50 an hour. Minimum wage workers in Portland metro would make $14.75 an hour.
Lawmakers are making quick work of the minimum wage bill, saying they’re trying to create a better policy than two ballot measures that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour or $13.50 an hour and reach the top wage in 2019.
Republicans have so far unsuccessfully tried to slow movement of the bill. They’ve taken issue with the fact that Democrats are sending the bill through both chambers without first having the nonpartisan legislative economists study the potential impacts on state and local budgets.
House Republican Leader Mike McLane, of Powell Butte, last week asked House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, to send the bill to the Legislature’s budget committee for more vetting.
“To consider this bill without the appropriate level of budget scrutiny would be a disservice to the people we are elected to represent,” McLane wrote, “and would represent a failure of our fiduciary duty as guardians of the state budget.”
Kotek’s spokeswoman said Monday the speaker hadn’t yet responded to McLane but planned to.
Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, one of the state’s co-head budget writers, said in committee that sending the bill to the budget committee “would delay the bill, obviously, but would not exactly illuminate any of the fiscal impacts on the current budget.”
Republican attempts to give voters the final say on the bill were turned down along party lines.
Republicans have said they prefer more gradual action on the minimum wage, with Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, suggesting lawmakers should consider tying it to counties’ median incomes.
“It’s also clear from my reading of the economic studies that (tying) the minimum wage to the median wage is a much better way to approach this problem,” Buehler said last week. “It tends to distort the labor market much less than just arbitrarily picking numbers.”
Others have asked for an ability for counties to opt out of the state-set minimum wage hike, or exemptions for certain industries like agriculture.