Nebraska Unicameral Legislature (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — A few months after Nebraska voters approved a minimum wage increase schedule, two state lawmakers have introduced bills to try to change that course.
A third state senator promptly objected with a legislative motion she calls a “red flag” of concern, signaling that the Legislature could be in for “lengthy and arduous” debate.
A public hearing on one of the measures, Legislative Bill 15, is scheduled for Monday Jan. 30.
Introduced by Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, that bill would allow employers to pay less than minimum wage to workers younger than 20.
Under the voter-approved initiative, which won in November with nearly 59% approval, the minimum hourly wage for working Nebraskans went up to $10.50 this year — and is to rise incrementally until reaching $15 an hour in 2026.
Briese’s proposal would allow employers to pay youth workers, ages 14 to 17 years old, $9 an hour this year, with the minimum wage for that age group inching up to $10 in 2026.
It would also set a minimum “training” wage for employees 18 and 19 years of age at $9.25 per hour through 2023, with their lowest hourly wage moving up to $10 in 2026 and then to 75% of the regular minimum age from 2027 onward.
‘Mom and pop’ stores
Briese said his intention is to help small businesses. He said employers would still be free to pay youths more if they chose.
“As legislators, we can’t allow provisions like this to force mom and pop stores out of business,” Briese said.
He believes that had voters been given the opportunity to exempt youths, results would have been different. He also said the minimum wage, as is, could lead to young people being shut out of part-time or summer jobs.
State Sen. Jane Raybould of Lincoln introduced Legislative Bill 327, which would tweak a voter-approved call to adjust the minimum wage each year after 2026 according to inflation and the cost of living.
As proposed, Raybould’s legislation would hold post-2026 annual minimum wage bumps to 1.5% or the increase in the cost of living, whichever is less.
Raybould noted Tuesday that she had supported the earlier 2014 movement to raise the state’s minimum wage. A concern Raybould has about this latest initiative, she said, is that minimum annual wage increases beyond 2026 were “not well defined.”
Tying those future increases to inflation and the consumer price index, Raybould said, is too “unpredictable and volatile” for small businesses and merchants.
She is a co-signer for Briese’s bill as well.
State Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln said she’ll go the distance to stop both bills, which she sees as attempts to “undercut the will of the people as expressed in the 2022 citizen initiative.”
“These are critical kitchen-table economic justice issues,” said Conrad, newly re-elected after being term-limited out of the Legislature in 2015. “I have talked to many families whose children work and help contribute to the family bottom line and who are saving for college and other necessities.”
Conrad, formerly an executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, said her advocacy has centered on issues impacting working families. She introduced a successful minimum wage bill in the Legislature in 2007 and helped lead the 2014 initiative to again raise the wage. She was a citizen volunteer on the latest 2022 initiative effort.
Nebraska Appleseed also has weighed in, saying Raybould’s bill would “all but” ensure that Nebraska wages fall behind cost of living increases.
Appleseed was one of about 25 organizations and individuals in the Raise the Wage Nebraska coalition that helped pass Initiative 433.
Of the Briese bill, an Appleseed statement said it would create a “subminimum wage” for trainees and teens “despite the fact that many young people are working to support their families or save for their education.”
Ken Smith, Appleseed’s economic justice director, said the two bills “directly undermine the will of Nebraskans across the state.”
“We must ensure that Nebraska workers are paid a living wage.… We must now all fight to protect it.”’
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