Minimum wage bill: Lawmakers’ emphasis is on the “minimum”

two session ago
Activists rally for higher wages in 2015 -- two legislative sessions ago. SEIU Nevada Facebook photo.

After reading the minimum wage legislation posted on the Legislature’s NELIS website Monday night, my first thought was, eh, could be worse.

Turns out it was.

A bill that simply called for raising Nevada’s minimum wage to $12, effective Jan. 1 2020, was posted mistakenly, a “technical error,” according to the Legislative Counsel Bureau, a group of state employees not known for errors technical or otherwise.

By Tuesday morning, the bill had been replaced by a “corrected” minimum wage bill, i.e., one of the most measly, wimpy minimum wage measures of any approved in the recent spate of increases across the nation.

Specifically, the corrected bill raises the minimum wage, currently $7.25 if employers offer health care, $8.25 if they don’t, by 75 cents a year until the wages top out at $11 and 12 respectively in 2024.

The bill mirrors legislation Democratic legislators passed, and Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed, in 2017.

Except for one big difference…

If Sandoval had signed the 2017 version, the $7.25 wage (which is much abused by employers who offer junk health insurance; everyone should just get the higher wage) would have hit $11, and the $8.25 wage reach $12, in 2022.

Under this year’s bill, that won’t happen until Jan. 1, 2024, just days before Ivanka Trump and Chelsea Clinton win their respective parties’ Iowa caucuses.

You might think that Democrats, who after all thought working Nevadans needed a raise two years ago, would want to make up for lost time, and adjust the formula to compensate for the misfortune of having a Republican governor two years ago.

For example, the $8.25 wage could be raised to $10.50 at the start of 2020, then raised 75 cents each of the following two years, to hit $12 in 2022.

Or better yet, Democrats could be deliberating on an entirely different bill, specifically, one that doesn’t suck.

In California, which as everyone knows is a state that Nevada simply must not emulate in any way whatsoever because rural people and other Republicans think California is icky, the minimum wage is $12 right now this very minute, and will rise to $15 by 2022. But again, California, according to a vocal contingent of Nevadans, is horrible and terrible so really why even bring it up?

Arizona, a state chock full of white retirees watching Fox News and complaining about brown people who do all the work… maybe that’s a state Nevada, or someone’s version of Nevada, can identify with. Then again, maybe not. Those darned radical socialist lib voters in Arizona took matters into their own hands in 2016, and long story short now the the minimum wage is $11. It rises to $12 Jan. 1, 2020.

As you all know, the word Nevada, in Spanish, means snow-covered. You know who is covered in snow a lot? Colorado, that’s who. Where the minimum wage is now $11.10, and will hit $12 — you guessed it — Jan. 1, 2020.

Oregon has Portland. Reno, or a certain segment of it anyway, seems to think it’s Portland. But Reno has some catching up to do — Oregon’s minimum wage is $10.75. While California is already at $12, and Colorado and Arizona reach $12 Jan. 1, 2020, Oregon’s wage won’t reach $12 until July of 2020. Slackers.

Democratic presidential candidates are split between those who are tacking to a more aggressive progressive agenda and those who aren’t. Nevada, as an early state, gets to see a fair amount of this firsthand.

“Of all the early states we are the most diverse and I think it’s really important that candidates are exposed to a diverse voting population and hear them out on issues of concern,” a state party official told the Current a while back.

If the first few weeks of the Nevada Legislature are any indication, there is very little in the way of an ideological split of that sort among Nevada Democrats. They are very, very aggressive about being meek.

While campaigning in Nevada’s exciting “First in the West” presidential contest, perhaps Democratic presidential hopefuls should just stick to protecting insurance coverage for people with preexisting conditions, and save the more progressive elements of their agenda for more progressive states, like New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina.

Nevada Democrats are proposing a paid sick leave bill that provides paltry three days a year. Why not at least start with seven and then see how many the holy sacred campaign contributors will let you keep, instead of opening with such a lethargic proposal?

Similarly, does anyone expect the much beloved “stakeholders” in the campaign cash class are going to sit quietly while even an embarrassingly weak minimum wage bill is debated? Sure, the bill calls for topping out at $12 by 2024 now. After industry lobbyists get done working over legislators and the governor (some more), it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s $11 by 2024, or $10. Do I hear $9?

Democrats should meld the original bill with the “corrected” version and — voila! — they’d have a bill that raises the minimum wage for everyone to $12, effective Jan. 1, 2020, followed by annual 75 cent increases until the wage hits $15 in 2024. Who knows? There might be something worthwhile left over even after “stakeholders” get done backing over the bill a few times with their SUVs.

Instead of dismissing the first minimum wage bill that was posted Monday night as a “technical error,” lawmakers should embrace it as an omen, a sign guiding them to policy that puts working Nevadans who don’t fund campaigns over special interests that do. For a change.

Hugh Jackson
Editor | Hugh Jackson has been writing about Nevada policy and politics for more than 20 years. He was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and wrote the then-groundbreaking Las Vegas Gleaner, which among other things was the only independent political blog from Nevada that was credentialed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He spent a few years as a senior energy and environmental policy analyst for Public Citizen, and has occasionally worked as a consultant on mining, taxation, education and other issues for Nevada labor and public interest organizations. His freelance work has been published in outlets ranging from the Guardian to Desert Companion to In These Times to the Oil & Gas Journal. For several years he also taught U.S. History courses at UNLV. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and then assistant managing editor at the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s largest newspaper.

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