- Associated Press - Thursday, January 8, 2015

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A Wichita Democrat is sponsoring a bill that would raise Kansas’ minimum wage by $3 over the next three years, and although it’s unlikely to pass in the Republican-dominated Legislature, it could help focus attention on the issue.

Rep. Jim Ward’s bill would raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 an hour on July 1, and by $1 an hour in each of the next two years, eventually hitting $10.25. Ward said he expects opposition from House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stillwell Republican, and others, but he said the issue should be debated.

A full-time worker at the state’s current minimum wage earns just over $15,000 a year - slightly above the poverty line for a family of two people.

“The jobs that are coming back (since the recession) are much lower wages than before and that’s why the minimum wage is so important,” Ward said. “It is fundamentally wrong for people who go to work full time to live at the poverty level. … That defeats the purpose of work.”

The state last raised the minimum wage in 2009 and Democrats’ efforts to raise it since then have all been voted down, The Wichita Eagle reported (https://bit.ly/1AtmScR ).

With less than 25 percent of the seats in the House this session, chances of success are slim. But it is still important for Democrats to frame the debate by introducing bills “to have them voted down, “said Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University.

“The minimum wage is a great one,” Beatty said. “The minimum wage (increase) actually polls very favorably across the country and in some Republican states has passed. This is not a dead-end issue. It’s a populist issue.”

Ward’s proposal also would increase the base wage for service workers who rely on tips by the same percentage as workers on the minimum wage. That means the minimum wage for workers who receive tips, such as waitresses, would rise from $2.13 an hour to $2.42, if the bill passes.

Merrick, who sets the debate schedule for the House, said in a statement that “any lawmaker is free to introduce legislation and have it go through the committee process.”

Gov. Sam Brownback’s office said he would not comment on potential bills. The governor dismissed President Barack Obama’s call in July to increase the minimum wage nationally as “big government ideas.”

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com


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