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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

January 29, 2015 at 5:08 PM

$12 minimum-wage bill advances after fiery debate

OLYMPIA — A bill to boost the state minimum wage to $12-an-hour over four years passed out of a House committee Thursday, but not before an opposed GOP lawmaker ripped minimum-wage activists as entitled in a “kids-these-days” diatribe.

Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, the ranking Republican on the House Labor Committee, argued low-wage workers need to take responsibility for their own earning power.

“If you want more money, get more education. If you want more money, develop more skills. If you want more money, develop more experience,” Manweller said before the vote on House Bill 1355, which would raise the state’s minimum wage, already the nation’s highest at $9.47 an hour, to $12 an hour by 2019.

Manweller said the Legislature has “bent over backwards” to try to provide college and training opportunities for low-income workers. “You can do it online, on weekends,” he said.

Manweller lamented “how things have changed” from days when workers who testified before the Legislature “had calluses on their hands” from building battleships and highways. That generation “commanded your respect,” he said.

“Now today we gather up 20 college kids, give them a green T-shirt and a bingo game, and they parade us with stories about what the world owes them,” Manweller said, referring to activists who’d recently mocked testimony of opponents of raising the minimum wage by playing a game of “business lobby” bingo.

“Thank God my dad wasn’t in the room,” Manweller continued. Rather than complain about his wages, “he made himself worth $20 an hour, not telling other people that they ought to give him $20 an hour.”

“I would submit to you… my father’s way was better,” he said.

Manweller’s speech drew a rebuttal from the labor committee chairman, Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett.

“When the bottom rung of the ladder is broken, people have a hard time paying for the types of things you suggest they do,” Sells said, noting the state has forced universities to drastically raise tuition due to budget cuts.

“The promise of an opportunity society is that people get paid a fair day’s wage for an honest day’s work,” Sells said. “Your father would have understood that.”

Sells said the minimum wage would be over $20-an-hour if it had been indexed for inflation over the decades. “It’s not. And its time for us to act,” he said.

The minimum-wage bill passed out of the committee on a party-line 4-3 vote. The panel also approved another union-priority bill, HB 1356, requiring businesses to provide a minimum amount of paid sick leave.

The fates of both measures remains unclear in the Legislature. Last year, a $12 minimum wage bill failed to even pass the Democratic-controlled House. A sick-leave measure passed the House but died in the Senate that year.

You can watch video of the Manweller-Sells exchange here.

Comments | More in State government, State Legislature | Topics: minimum wage, Rep. Matt Manweller, Rep. Mike Sells

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