To the Editor:
Last week, the Kentucky House voted for one of its top priorities this legislative session: Raising the minimum wage, something that hasn’t happened here in nearly five years.
It did not take long to learn just how much public support this proposal has. Over the weekend, the state’s two largest newspapers published a statewide poll showing that nearly two-thirds of Kentuckians support what the House is trying to do.
This confirms what other national polls have long reported, and the result is that many other states – more than 20 – are considering taking steps similar to ours, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
It has been seven years since the General Assembly last voted to raise the minimum wage. Under that 2007 legislation, we increased the wage incrementally, until it reached the current $7.25 an hour in 2009, which is also the federal minimum wage.
This year’s House Bill 1 would take that same three-step process as well, raising the wage by 95 cents each time. This would give businesses enough time to adjust to the increase.
Federal statistics show that there are 60,000 Kentuckians who earn the minimum wage or less. About 70 percent are female, and a little more than half are older than 22. About 20 percent of Kentucky’s children live in a home with a parent who makes minimum wage.
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 if they meet the other requirements.
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.
While these two bills were the main focus of last week, a top priority of legislators from coal-producing districts made it through the House on Monday.
House Bill 2, of which I am the prime co-sponsor, would make permanent a pilot program that Governor Beshear created in 2012 to help college students in the coal region finish their four-year degree close to home.
Nearly 100 students have already graduated with help from this program, and several hundred others are in the process. The governor’s budget calls for an increase in coal-severance money so the program can reach out to even more.
To qualify, students will need to have at least 60 credit hours and be enrolled at least half-time in upper-level courses at a qualifying postsecondary school that is either based in a coal-producing county or has a satellite campus there.
The most a student could receive a year is $6,800 to attend a non-profit, independent four-year college such as UPike and $2,300 to attend a satellite campus of a public four-year university or a regional postsecondary center. There also would be grant money available if the student’s degree program is not available in a coalproducing county.
All three of these bills are now in the Senate, which will hopefully pass them and send them on to Governor Beshear for his signature.
While we wait to see what occurs, I want to say that I appreciate those who have let me know their views during this time. If you would like to join them, please contact me by writing to Room 373, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or by emailing me at Leslie.Combs@ 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.
I hope to hear from you soon.