By Derrick DePledge
The state House Labor Committee advanced a bill on Tuesday that would increase the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by January 2017. The wage would be pegged to the Consumer Price Index after September 2017. A tip credit would be eliminated.
The bill, which was passed unamended, now goes to the state House Finance Committee.
The Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee moved a bill in late January that would take the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by January 2017. The legislation would also tie the wage to the Consumer Price Index and eliminate the tip credit.
The Senate version is before the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
The state's $7.25 an hour minimum wage has not been increased since 2007 and has become a priority for the Democratic Party. Many labor and social service advocates are closely watching the political maneuvers this session after negotiations over a minimum wage increase collapsed last session over the tip credit.
Sen. David Ige, the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, who is challenging Gov. Neil Abercrombie in the Democratic primary, issued a statement on Tuesday pledging to work with the House to ensure that a minimum wage increase is approved this session.
“We are committed to working with our counterparts in the House and the leadership of both chambers to ensure that we pass a minimum wage bill this legislative session," Ige said. "Currently, there is a bill still in conference that has carried over from the 2013 legislative session as well as new bills that have been introduced this year. I support increasing the minimum wage, and passing a bill as soon as possible this session. We have Senate Bill 331 in conference committee and would be able to take action immediately once we have agreement on the bill.”
Some observers interpreted Ige's statement to mean that he would prefer to take up the bill that stalled in conference committee last session than the bill that moved out of the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee in January.
An aide to Ige insisted, however, that the senator was simply outlining the options available to lawmakers.
Rep. Mark Nakashima, the chairman of the House Labor Committee, said there had been talk near the opening of session about reviving the bill from conference committee. But he said that both the House and Senate now have new bills to consider.
Drew Astolfi, the executive director of FACE, an advocacy group, considered Ige's statement an "end run" around having to hear the new bills in his committee.
"Today the House Labor Committee followed the Senate Labor committee in crafting new dynamic legislation raising Hawaii's stagnant minimum wage for all workers -- including restaurant workers," he said in a statement. "While we at FACE welcome David Ige's new found support for the minimum wage we are very concerned that engaging in backroom negotiation around last year's bills will miss the chance to give this year's legislation a fair and public hearing in front of the senator's important Ways and Means Committee."
Astolfi and other advocates are planning a rally on Wednesday afternoon at the state Capitol "to ensure that Hawaii's most struggling families get a hearing."