- Associated Press - Friday, May 15, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Part-time student workers will continue to be guaranteed the same minimum wage as adults in Nebraska after a proposal that would have put them in a separate category failed to win enough support Friday in the Legislature.

The bill, which won a majority but not the necessary two-thirds support it needed for passage, would have kept the minimum wage for part-time student workers at $8, even after the standard minimum wage increases to $9 in January.

Although 29 senators voted for it, the measure needed 33 votes to pass because it would have modified last November’s citizen-led ballot measure in which Nebraska residents raised the minimum wage with an aggressive petition process.

“Defeat of LB599 is a win for democracy, a win for our ballot petition process and a win for the will of Nebraska voters,” said Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, who was part of a coalition of Democrats in opposition to the bill.

The measure was backed by the Nebraska Grocery Industry Association and was touted as a way for small-town grocery stores to provide part-time jobs for local students without going out of business.

But opponents of had called it an insult to voters and said it would create an incentive for students to drop out of school to qualify for higher wages.

The bill passed the first two rounds of voting with overwhelming majorities. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete, said she believes public outcry between second and third-round votes derailed the bill. The opposition staged a filibuster during second-round voting and encouraged hundreds of residents to email their senators.

Ebke said the vote demonstrates how difficult the ballot initiative made it for the legislature to adjust the minimum wage in the future. The bill’s 29 votes would have been enough to advance a normal bill.

Nordquist, who led the minimum wage petition process last November, said that’s a good thing with an issue so far-reaching.

“I don’t see much possibility of us internally putting together 33 votes positively or negatively to change the minimum wage,” Nordquist said. “That’s why we didn’t keep fighting the battle in here. We went directly to voters and they spoke loud and clear.”

Nordquist said he believes Nebraska’s low unemployment rate disapproves arguments that higher minimum wage will force small business owners into the ground.

“Businesses have always adapted, for the last 70 years, to the minimum wage policy in our country,” Nordquist said. “The same doomsday scenarios have been stated time and time and time again, and it just hasn’t fallen true.”

Small-town grocers have said once the standard minimum wage increases it will be inefficient to hire student workers because they have spotty schedules and are prohibited by law to sell alcohol and tobacco.

But high school students involved in sports, school and part-time jobs say they don’t understand why the bill was proposed in the first place.

“If you do the same amount of work, you need to get paid the same amount,” said 16-year-old Joe Bogart, who bags groceries at Holdrege Marketplace in Holdrege. “Otherwise it’s not fair. It doesn’t seem right.”

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The bill is LB599

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