Minimum wage battle to officially kick off in Assembly

Nevada lawmakers will soon hear the first details of proposals to raise the state’s minimum wage, a pledge made by Democrats since the start of session and one that promises to meet fierce opposition from business groups and Republicans.

Legislators plan to hold a hearing on Wednesday on AB175, a bill sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman William McCurdy that would raise the state’s minimum wage — currently set at $7.25 for workers with employer-offered health care and $8.25 for those without — to a similarly tiered system of $14 and $15 an hour over a period of several years through incremental $1.25  annual increases.

It’s the opening salvo in an expected clash between legislative leaders and the state’s Republican governor, Brian Sandoval. Democrats hold majorities in both houses of the Legislature but not enough seats to override a veto from Sandoval, who has expressed serious qualms about signing off on either of the minimum wage increase bills introduced in the first two weeks of the legislative session.

A spokeswoman for Sandoval said the governor’s position on potentially raising the minimum wage hasn’t changed.

“Due to the predicted loss of jobs and harm to small businesses, the potential to block young people and individuals with less work experience from open positions, and an increase in consumer prices, the Governor has historically opposed a legislative mandate to increase the minimum wage,” Sandoval spokeswoman Mari St. Martin said. “However, the governor will not comment on this specific legislation until it goes through a full legislative review.”

Regardless, Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford have promised that a minimum wage increase will pass this session and say passing minimum wage increase is fulfilling a campaign promise.

“We promised the voters that we’re going to have hearings on raising the minimum wage, that’s what we’re doing right now,” he said.

Ford said he was “reserving judgment” on the proposed $15 an hour minimum wage, and that senators will hold a hearing next week on SB106, a less ambitious measure introduced last week that would raise the minimum wage to a similarly tiered $11 or $12 an hour system based on employer-offered health care.

Republican Assembly Minority Leader Paul Anderson said he didn’t think there was an appetite in his caucus to support a minimum wage hike, given the normal business concerns associated with raising the wage.

“We don’t want to artificially move the needle economically when it doesn’t make sense,” he said.

The Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, which represents business interests in Southern Nevada, said it was “deeply concerned” with the possible impacts of the legislation and specifically complained about the two-day turnaround from bill introduction to a committee hearing.

“There are too many negative consequences associated with this bill and it should not be passed,” Chamber CEO Kristin McMillan said in a statement.

Raising the minimum wage is widely popular among Nevada voters, according to recent results from The Independent Poll that indicated 69 percent of voters supported an increase, compared to only 27 percent who said it should stay at it’s current level.

An increase in the minimum wage could affect a large swath of Nevada workers, many of whom are clustered in low-paying service or food preparation jobs. Though only an estimated 44,000 workers currently make between $7.25 and $8.25 an hour, roughly a third of workers in the state earn less than $15 an hour.

Nevada lawmakers nearly approved a minimum wage increase last session, in the form of a proposed $9 an hour increase proposed by then-Republican Sen. Patricia Farley that also tied in changes to how overtime is calculated. Farley, who switched party registration to nonpartisan and now caucuses with the Democrats, reintroduced the overtime changes, which would end overtime pay after eight hours in a day and only after 40 hours in a week, in a separate bill that came out on Monday.

Democratic Sen. Tick Segerblom said he wasn’t sure what strategy Democrats would use to try and pass a minimum wage, but said he was pleased that lawmakers were taking the idea of a $15 an hour wage floor — which Segerblom proposed during the 2015 session — seriously.

“Two years ago, it was crazy,” he said.