Uncertainty, then overnight debate on $15 minimum wage
A deal to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 over four years was revised Wednesday night to meet the demands of some moderate Democratic senators to stretch out the implementation schedule for at least another six months.
While talks continued with the Senate, the House of Representatives initially postponed a debate on a version of a minimum-wage bill supported by Gov. Ned Lamont. But at 10 p.m., the House reversed course and began a debate on a compromise that would increase the $10.10 minimum to $11 on Oct. 1 and eventually reach $15 on Oct. 15, 2023.
The debate was expected to run past dawn on Thursday.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said a compromise was preferable to no bill.
“If it takes adding a few months to get a bill, then that’s the deal you have to make make,” Ritter said.
Accompanied by their chiefs of staff, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, and Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, conferred on the rostrum of the Senate chamber about the minimum wage.
Aresimowicz left the chamber without declaring if the House vote would go forward Wednesday or be postponed.
A version of the bill approved Tuesday by the Appropriations Committee would raise the minimum wage to $15 in just three years, requiring a jump of $1.90 in the hourly minimum to $12 on Jan. 1. But Democrats have acknowledged for months that Lamont would prevail on a four-year implementation, bumping the minimum to $11.25 in January, followed by increases of $1.25 in each of the following three years until reaching $15 in 2023.
After 2023, the minimum wage would be pegged to the Employment Cost Index, a measure of wage growth calculated by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The remaining questions about the minimum-wage bill had centered on Lamont’s demand for a cheaper minimum-wage for 16 and 17-year-olds over a 90-day training period and his desire to exempt tipped restaurant workers from the increase. But the timing issue came to the fore Wednesday, leading to Aresimowicz’s visit to the Senate.
It was unclear Wednesday night how many Democratic senators were seeking a five-year implementation. Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, the Appropriations co-chair, made clear on Tuesday she would seek changes easing the bill’s impact on small businesses.
Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, generally has been reluctant to support a higher minimum wage. She said Wednesday night she told Senate leaders she prefers a six-year schedule for raising the minimum to $15.
“The timing is important,” she said.
Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, the co-chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, said she favored the four-year schedule, but it was important for minim-wage workers to get their first raise since it hit $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2017.
“Let’s just do this and move the bill,” she said.
Senate Democrats could not pass a minimum wage increase in 2017 or 2018, when the chamber was split 18-18 between Democrats and Republicans and every Democrat had a de facto veto. But now with a 22-14 majority, Democrats could sustain the defection of four members and still pass a bill on a tie-breaking vote by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said going forward without a clear majority was unacceptable, but he was confident that the General Assembly would agree on a path to a $15 minimum wage. He and Ritter, his House counterpart, said a vote must come soon as the session ends on June 5.
“It’s crunch time,” Duff said.
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