February 18, 2014

Des Moines, Iowa

Legislation to boost Iowa's minimum wage earned preliminary approval Tuesday in the Democratic-majority state Senate, though supporters acknowledge the bill faces major hurdles due to a lack of Republican support.

The bill, which gradually would increase the minimum wage in the state to $10.10 an hour from the current $7.25, won backing in a Senate subcommittee. It will now move to the full Labor and Business Relations Committee for review. But Democratic senators noted there is little Republican interest in the effort, which means the bill will have a tough time getting a full vote in the Senate or advancing in the GOP-controlled House.

"We're going to have to garner Republican support," said Sen. William Dotzler, D-Waterloo, saying that he'd be open to amending the bill to change the time frame or the hourly wage, if it would bring GOP members on board.

Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, declined to sign off on the bill Tuesday. He said a wage increase could hurt businesses and that the state should focus on training for workers that will help them increase their pay.

"The problem is not the minimum wage, the problem is when you're stuck at minimum wage and can't get out of minimum wage," Chapman said.

Supporters of the bill say it would help low-income families and reduce dependence on public-benefit programs. Business groups opposing the bill say it could result in employers firing or reduce their hours.

"I want you to listen to us, to families that are struggling on minimum wage. We can hardly make ends meet," said Amelia Hernandez Galvan, 40, of Des Moines, who said she worked in a Burger King.

Jim Henter, president of the Iowa Retail Federation, said a wage increase could stymie business growth.

"A good job is an important opportunity, but only if those jobs exist," Henter said.

A similar conversation is under way in Washington. President Barack Obama is backing legislation from Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. But the effort is considered unlikely to win enough support from Congress.