The state Senate conducted its first hearing Monday on a constitutional amendment to restructure the minimum wage to ensure workers earn the same amount regardless of health benefits.
The current structure allows employers to pay a dollar less if they offer health insurance, but doesn’t regulate the quality of the insurance.
“The distinction between minimum wage depending on whether or not there is health care has been included in the Nevada constitution for some time,” said Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, who presented Assembly Joint Resolution 10 on Monday. “It’s important to note that Nevada is the only state that has this distinction. We’ve had numerous conversations in an attempt to define what health care benefits need to be in order to qualify. It’s an unusual way to calculate minimum wage and distinguish between minimum wage rates. We believe it’s time to make that change so Nevada can remain competitive to our surrounding states.”
AJR 10, which passed during the 2019 session, passed again in the Assembly 26-16 in a party line vote April 12. If approved by the Senate, the constitutional amendment would be placed on the 2022 ballot for voters to decide.
“It would simply, by 2024, prohibit us from going lower than $12,” Frierson said. “It would also make clear that just because that’s the minimum that if the federal government raised it higher than that, there would be no barrier to Nevada following suit.”
Several groups support the amendment, including Battle Born Progress, which said in a statement that “businesses have been abusing the provision of connecting healthcare with the minimum wage.”
Christine Saunders, the policy director for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, added that when people can’t afford the basics, whether it’s healthcare or paying for home repairs, the entire economy suffers.
“Increasing the minimum wage would boost not only individual households but the communities workers live and spend in,” she said.
The proposal is opposed by several chambers of commerce and conservative groups including Nevada Families for Freedom.
“We continue to have concerns because of the elimination of the health care credits and the timing (of the proposal) as we work to recover,” said Paul Moradkhan of the Vegas Chamber of Commerce.
Some argued the resolution, which would be decided by the voters, would hurt small business and “low-skilled workers entering the workforce.”
“One of the things the pandemic revealed was prior to January 2020 individuals who bagged up groceries, stocked the shelve and worked at night were called low-wage workers,” state Sen. Pat Spearman said. “Right around April 2020, they were called essential workers. There is something there that made the distinction and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.”
There has been a years-long, nationwide push to increase the minimum wage to at least $15, a figure supported by President Joe Biden. The House passed a federal wage increase earlier this year as part of the American Rescue Plan, but the provision was stripped out ahead of its final passage.
The first increase went into effect in July 2020 bringing the current wage to $9 an hour for an employee without health insurance and $8 an hour with health insurance.
The next 75 cent increase is scheduled for July 1.