Assemblyman Jason Frierson at Democratic Party celebration party, election night, 2018. Nevada Current file photo.
After years of campaigning for a $15 minimum wage, some Nevada progressives Tuesday offered only mild criticism of legislation introduced this week to raise the wage by 75 cents a year before topping out at $12 in 2024.
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said lawmakers landed at $12 in five years because it was “palatable.”
“We were having conversations with both workers and businesses, both large and small, about what is doable and can be implemented,” Frierson said. “We have to start somewhere and we haven’t raised the wage in quite some time.”
J.D. Klippenstein, the the executive director of ACTIONN, a Reno-based advocacy group focusing on housing issues, said the legislation sponsored by the Assembly Committee on Commerce and Labor is not the bill activists wanted.
“I’m not going to say no to a bill that raises the minimum wage, but my hope is that we can do better,” said Klippenstein, who was among a group of activists in Carson City advocating in conjunction with Housing and Homeless Awareness Day. “We are told that $12 may be the floor rather than the ceiling so my hope is we can push for the bill to end up at a higher rate.”
The first version of Assembly Bill 456 posted Monday called for increasing the wage to $12 on Jan. 1, 2020 — the current wage in Nevada is $7.25 if employers offer health care coverage, and $8.25 without health benefits.
But that was the wrong bill.
“We posted the wrong version to the website and later corrected it to the version that was introduced,” said Rick Combs, the director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau.
In the corrected version, instead taking the wage up to $12 in one swoop, the legislation would do it in increments of 75 cents each year until it reached $12 — or $11 if the employer offers health insurance.
Frierson said he doesn’t think the two-tier offering is effective. “But it is in the constitution,” he said. “Unless and until we change the constitution, that is the existing structure. We are the only state that has the distinction for health insurance. I don’t think it is the best way to go. That’s going to be part of our conversation about policy.”
Bethany Kahn, director of communications for the Culinary Union, said $12 is not enough and that the union supports a national push in Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $15.
“If it’s $12, we hope that it’s only the beginning and not the end of the fight to raise the minimum wage,” she said.
Groups have long pushed for $15, but say that is barely enough to afford housing costs. “We know it takes $18 to afford a two-bedroom apartment,” said LaLo Montoya, the political director of Make the Road Nevada.
As lawmakers introduce and debate bills addressing wages, affordable housing development and reform of eviction laws, he urged them to not forget about economic stability.
“In order to face the housing crisis, we need to raise the wage,” Montoya said. “Right now, we know of people who are working two or three jobs just to keep a roof over their heads.”
Both Montoya and Klippenstein remain somewhat hopeful that there is room for improvement in the bill and are going to push lawmakers to consider improvements to the legislation — both said they met with members of Frierson’s office.
“The drivers for housing insecurities are economic drivers,” Klippenstein added. “If all we’re trying to do is build more affordable housing without addressing wages and other barriers folks have to meaningful employment and economic dignity, then we’re never really going to address housing insecurity. They are interrelated. If you pull one out, one doesn’t stand up on its own.”
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