House committee approves increase in minimum wage

Posted: Thursday, February 07, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Alaska's minimum wage would rise to $7.15 per hour under a bill passed by a House committee this week.

The House Labor and Commerce Committee on Wednesday approved a measure to increase the current $5.65 per hour minimum wage. It would take effect Jan. 1, 2003.

Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, sponsored House Bill 56. Kott's bill would allow the rate to go up at either half the rate of inflation or $1 over the federal minimum wage, whichever is more.

A ballot initiative that will be before voters in November 2002 asks for the same increase, but sets future increases at the full rate of inflation or $1 over the federal rate, whichever is more.

Kott introduced a bill last year to raise the minimum wage to $6.90 but the Republican-controlled Legislature took no action on it.

The AFL-CIO then undertook a petition drive to get the measure on the ballot.

An initiative could be removed from the ballot if the Legislature passes a similar law. But it is unclear whether this proposed bill would remove the initiative.

Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, a Democrat, and Attorney General Bruce Botelho would have to make that determination.

Kott gave his bill a ''do pass'' recommendation and Rep. Norman Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, recommended against it. Five other committee members gave no recommendation but sent it out of committee.

Rokeberg said a 26.5 percent increase in the minimum wage is ill-timed since the state's economy faces an uncertain future. The measure could also threaten the seafood industry, he said.

But State Labor Commissioner Ed Flanagan said studies on the last two federal minimum wage increases showed limited impact on businesses.

The measure now goes to the House Finance Committee.

Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles called for a hike in the minimum wage during his last two State of the State addresses, calling the state's wage the lowest on the West Coast.

State law sets the minimum wage 50 cents higher than the $5.15 federal rate.

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