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Minimum wage increase proposal blindsides Democrats

CARSON CITY — Republicans blindsided Democrats on a Senate committee Friday when they amended an overtime bill to raise Nevada’s minimum wage to $9 an hour.

Existing law requires employers with some exceptions to pay workers time and a half for hours worked in excess of eight hours within a 24-hour period. Under Senate Bill 193, overtime provisions would not kick in until 40 hours are worked within a week.

The law would mainly affect low-wage earners and would not apply to workers covered under collective bargaining agreements where such work rules are negotiated.

Democrats on the committee mostly opposed the bill, arguing it would allow employers to take advantage of low-wage workers by requiring them to work longer hours without the benefit of overtime pay.

But discussion of the bill took a twisted and heated turn during a work session of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on Friday when Sen. Patricia Farley, R-Las Vegas, moved to amend the bill to raise the minimum wage to $9, a 75-cent increase for workers who do not receive employer-paid insurance.

“There’s an opportunity here that doesn’t require going to the ballot and doesn’t require four years out,” Farley said. “There’s an opportunity here to move it along and do the right thing.”

Democrats cried foul, saying it was wrong to toss out a minimum wage proposal without discussion.

“I feel like you guys are trying to box us in,” said Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-Las Vegas. “If you guys want to have a discussion about minimum wage, let’s have a discussion about minimum wage.”

“You guys are throwing out an arbitrary number,” he said. “This is crazy. I don’t know what we’re doing.”

State Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden and chairman of the committee, said he has met with various employers and business groups since the committee first heard testimony on the bill in February.

Settelmeyer said businesses told him their concerns were not about money and paying higher wages but the ability to have flexibility in scheduling.

He added that businesses will “probably come back and rip me a new one” for supporting the amendment.

The Democratic minority tried to prod the committee to go higher, but Republicans wouldn’t budge.

Nevada voters in 2006 passed a constitutional amendment making the state’s minimum wage $1 above the federal rate. Nevada’s current minimum is $8.25 an hour unless employers provide health insurance, then it’s $7.25.

State Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, has a proposal to take the minimum wage out of the Nevada Constitution and leave it up to lawmakers. Democratic state Sen. Tick Segerblom of Las Vegas has a separate measure to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

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