Senate Republicans forced to admit Maine’s low minimum wage is a desperate emergency

Senate Republicans forced to admit Maine’s low minimum wage is a desperate emergency

Democrats in the Maine Senate prevented an 11th-hour amendment written by corporate lobbyists from undermining the minimum wage referendum last night, but not before every Senate Republican was forced to go on record declaring that the state’s current minimum wage of $7.50 represented a public emergency and that an increase was needed immediately.

LD 1695, an amended form of a bill introduced by Governor Paul LePage, is similar to three other attempts to create a competing measure to the citizen initiative to raise Maine’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. The main difference is that its proponents claim that it wouldn’t have to go to the ballot, and potentially split the minimum wage vote this November, because it contains an emergency preamble. This was likely simply a ploy to gain some Democratic votes and then have the courts determine it to be a competing measure after the fact.

“Make no mistake: This bill is a competing measure,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, who previously oversaw the citizen initiative process for eight years as Secretary of State, in a statement after the vote. “There is nothing more sacred to our state’s political process than the citizen initiative. It is our duty as lawmakers to respect their will, and not get in their way. It’s time to let the people speak without interference.”

The emergency conceit, however, did force Republicans to vote for a legislation stating that “Maine workers who earn at or near the minimum wage are among the most economically vulnerable of our citizens” and that conditions are so desperately critical that the minimum wage must be raised immediately “for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety.”

That’s quite the statement for a group of Senators and their business lobby allies, who had opposed smaller increases to the minimum wage less than a year ago, to make.

The last-ditch maneuver failed when most Democratic senators voted against it, preventing it from reaching the two-thirds majority necessary for passage as emergency legislation.

“The special interests and their cohorts in the State House who have fought every effort to give working people a raise are running scared,” said Sen. John Patrick, the lead Senate Democrat on the Labor Committee. “They’re pulling out all the stops to do everything they can to throw a wrench in the gears of Maine voters. We’ve opposed every single competing measure they’ve proposed so far. This one was no different.”

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