The Nevada Assembly voted 33-8 Monday to raise Nevada's minimum wage $1 an hour to $6.15.
Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, said AB87 is designed to put an initiative petition supported by 68 percent of Nevada voters in November into effect immediately. She said there is no reason lawmakers should make minimum-wage earners wait another two years for another public vote.
"No full-time workers should live in poverty in the state of Nevada," she said. "That is what this legislation is to rectify."
Despite concerns raised by Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, Democrats were joined by half the Republican caucus in supporting the bill, which now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Hettrick said he would support a simple $1 per hour increase in the minimum wage, but was concerned by the indexing provisions in the legislation. The index would use the annual inflation rate to automatically increase Nevada's minimum wage in the future.
"Indexing is a guarantee, but no one guarantees the employer he will get anything," he said.
Hettrick said he was also concerned that the legislation would make it attractive for employers to give workers a $1 per hour raise and then cancel their health insurance.
"I would be happy to support it if it only increased the minimum wage," he said.
He was joined by Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, who said a bill in Congress would raise the nation's minimum wage $2 an hour, and she believes AB87 would then require Nevada to go another dollar above that, pushing the minimum wage up $3 to $8.15.
Responding to Hettrick's concerns, Giunchigliani said last year's inflation was 2.6 percent, which would add 18 cents an hour to the minimum wage. She said only once in recent years has inflation surpassed 3 percent - the maximum annual increase under AB87.
To Gansert's concern, she said that's not how the bill works. She said if the federal government raised the minimum $2, Nevada would be required only to match that, not to beat it by $1 an hour.
Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, said he supported the increase because now the wage is so low, there's no incentive for people to even get off welfare.
Giunchigliani agreed, saying a mother can make more on welfare than at a minimum-wage job.
But she said if the Legislature doesn't act, the same public which voted 2 to 1 for the initiative last November would undoubtedly put the requirements in the Constitution.
She said lawmakers would be better off enacting it as a statute so that, if something is wrong with the plan, it can be fixed without another constitutional amendment. The vote was 33-8, with Las Vegas Democrat Kathy McClain absent.
n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.