By Ryan Tarinelli
CARSON CITY — A bill to raise Nevada’s minimum wage faced its first legislative hearing on Wednesday, a renewed effort that failed in the last session after a veto by the state’s former Republican governor.
The measure seeks to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour for workers not offered health insurance and $11 an hour for employees who are. The legislation calls for the current $7.25 and $8.25, respectively, to rise over five years.
Laura Martin, executive director of the social justice organization Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said the group hopes the proposed $12 hourly wage is the “floor” and that subsequent increases would be possible.
“It’s not a living wage, but it’s considerably better than what we have now,” she said, contending wages have not kept up with inflation or rent prices.
Because of the current minimum wage, she said, corporations are able to record high profits while workers struggle to pay their bills.
Nevada Democrats, who hold a majority in the state Senate and a super majority in the Assembly, have identified raising the minimum wage as a legislative priority.
Former Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed a 2017 bill in that would have raised the minimum wage to the limits in the current proposal. A resolution in the 2015 legislative session also sought to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour for employees who receive health benefits.
Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, who was elected in November, has expressed support for raising the minimum wage.
Dozens of Democratic U.S. senators, including several presidential candidates, support a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce and the chamber of commerce for the Reno and Sparks area have voiced concerns over the legislation.
Ann Silver, CEO of the Reno and Sparks Chamber of Commerce, argued businesses have seen wage growth naturally through the free market. But she said a mandated pay increase will raise costs on small businesses. Silver said she does not support a $7.25 hourly wage, but argued the rate could be appropriate for an entry-level job for a high school student working a summer job.
Cara Clarke, a spokeswoman for the Las Vegas chamber, said the organization has concerns the bill would halt additional hiring, lead to layoffs and steer employers toward automation and other efficiencies.
Democratic Assemblyman Skip Daly described minimum wage as a balancing act.
“I think the $12 approach and staging it in is probably the more palatable approach,” he said. “So you know we’re going to listen to that testimony and see where we go.”