- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Voters might be able to weigh in on gradually raising Nevada’s minimum wage from its current rate of $8.25 an hour to $13 over the next decade.

A group called the Committee to Raise the Minimum Wage in Nevada filed a petition Monday to get a rate hike on the ballot in 2016. Officers for the group include the Rev. Neal Anderson of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada, who said the measure was about lifting families from poverty, bringing wages in line with increasing costs and affirming human dignity.

“All labor has dignity and therefore we need to value that work,” Anderson said Tuesday. “At some point we need to change policy as well, not just provide charity, which is never enough.”

Nevada’s minimum wage is set in the state constitution at $8.25 an hour, or $7.25 if an employer offers health insurance. The measure would bump the rate to $9.25 an hour in late 2018, then increase it by 75 cents each year until it reaches $13 in 2024.

The measure proposes that all subsequent minimum wage hikes in Nevada be tied to growth in the federal rate or to a cost-of-living index.

It would also remove the lower-tier minimum wage rate for employers who offer insurance, and would cut out a portion that exempts teenagers from minimum wage rules if they’re working for nonprofits on a short-term basis.

Backers must gather more than 55,000 signatures from across the state to put the proposal on the ballot. Anderson said the group hopes to do that by circulating the petition in faith communities.

The proposal is more modest than the $15 an hour sought by fast food workers who have been staging strikes in Las Vegas and elsewhere. It comes after a bill that would have raised the state’s minimum wage to $9 died at the end of this spring’s legislative session, and after a proposed constitutional amendment raising the wage to $15 made even less progress.

“We want to ensure we are able to win,” Anderson said about the petition’s gradual approach. “Sometimes social change goes along with pragmatics.”

Opponents of raising the minimum wage say it would hurt entry-level workers, whose jobs would be replaced by automation and whose employers would go out of business.

“If enacted, the proposed minimum wage increase would kill jobs for teenagers, inexperienced workers and people who are re-entering the workforce,” said Victor Joecks, executive vice president of Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank.

The measure is one of six active petitions filed with the Nevada Secretary of State so far seeking statewide ballot questions in 2016. Others include petitions to repeal the state health exchange, require voter ID at the ballot box and nullify a portion of a $1.1 billion tax package passed this spring by the Nevada Legislature.

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