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State Senate passes minimum wage increase

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media

A bill increasing the minimum wage in the First State is halfway to the Gov. Carney’s desk.


Democrats are pushing to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next five years — calling it an effort to compete with neighboring states and lift people out of poverty. 


That effort cleared the state Senate along party lines in a 14-7 vote.


State Sen. Elizabeth Lockman (D-Wilmington) took aim at her Republican colleagues, who claim most minimum wage earners are teenagers working their first job.


“The idea that a minimum wage, that minimum wage earners are primarily teenagers working their first job, it’s just, it's a myth that we know has been advanced by those more powerful to protect their own interests at the expense of others," Lockman said.


Lockman adds an increase in the minimum wage will not only lift people out of poverty, it will help with food insecurity and reduce crime rates, a topic she says is often debated on the senate floor.


Senate sponsor Jack Walsh (D-Stanton) says it will help lift thousands of Delawareans out of poverty, especially when many are struggling.


But the COVID-19 pandemic is exactly why Republicans oppose the measure. State Sen. David Wilson (R-Bridgeville) asks lawmakers to think of business owners.


“The minimum wage has got to be changed but I think that you need to look at it at a time when we’re not coming out of this crisis that we’ve just been in," said Wilson.


Wilson says a minimum wage increase would severely hurt his auction business, a sentiment echoed by other Republican businesses owners in the Senate.


Walsh refutes that and saying calls to delay consideration of an increase happens every time it comes up, pandemic or not.


He adds when the last minimum wage increase started back in 2013, Delaware saw tremendous increases in employment despite warnings from Republicans.


Some of the senate’s more progessive members also backed the bill, but said this is the result of compromise. They want more done to raise wages, such as repealing the youth and training wages and tying minimum wage increases to inflation.


But there's still hope in getting rid of the youth and training wages. House Bill 88, introduced by Rep. Kim Williams, would remove both special wages.


Rep. Bill Bush is the chair of House Economic Development Committee and says he's ready to bring forward both bills.


"As committee chair, it's my hope that providing a date-certain for a hearing on SB 15 will demonstrate our commitment to fostering a full, fair and open discussion on this bill."


That date is April 19th, when the committee will take up SB 15. HB 88 will be considered in next week's committee hearing.


Roman Battaglia a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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