House members offering opposing minimum wage bills
One measure would raise pay; other would keep it at federal level
By M.J. Ellington
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MONTGOMERY — One Birmingham lawmaker wants the state to set a minimum wage. But another lawmaker wants to ensure that any state minimum doesn't exceed the federal minimum.
Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, is proposing a state minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, enacted in phases over two years.
Voters would have to pass an amendment to the state constitution to enact the state minimum wage.
Todd's bill would match the minimum wage currently proposed in Congress. The U.S. House has passed a bill raising the federal minimum to $7.25. The bill is now in the U.S. Senate.
The last hike in the federal minimum wage was in 1997, when Congress raised it to $5.15 per hour.
Currently, Alabama has no law setting a minimum hourly wage.
Todd said stories of low-income residents in her district motivated her to file her bill. A person earning minimum wage and working 40 hours per week takes home about $10,000 annually, she said, about $6,000 below federal poverty level.
"Alabama has a strong economy now, but we left a lot of people behind in poverty who do not always show up on statistics," Todd said.
Although the state's unemployment rate is at historic lows, Todd said those numbers don't count people who have given up finding work.
While Todd doubts her measure will get out of the House Commerce Committee this year, she said it is important to begin trying.
Rep. Jack Williams, R-Birmingham, also wants the state to have a position on minimum wage, but he wants to make it illegal for either the Legislature or a municipality to set a minimum higher than that set by Congress.
Williams said he began thinking about a bill to cap the state minimum wage at the federal rate last summer because of reports about a minimum-wage hike that almost stopped a Wal-Mart project near Chicago.
A city in the Chicago area raised its minimum wage after Wal-Mart began a construction project with the lower wage rate factored into its costs.
"It is good for economic development to keep the rate low," Williams said. "We've done so well here. Employers see that when they look to locate here." He said the state needs to attract more employers, particularly those that offer more high-paying jobs, and state laws now help attract them.
Williams said he does not want Alabama to overvalue jobs and affect its ability to attract and keep employers. He said the National Federation of Independent Business and state retailers worked with him on his measure.
Alabama is one of five states with no minimum wage law. The others are Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and South Carolina, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Georgia has the same minimum wage as the federal limit, $5.15 per hour. Three other Southern states have rates higher than the federal minimum, including $6.25 in Arkansas, $6.67 per hour in Florida and $6.15 per hour in North Carolina.
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