pRep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, unleashed the forces of science on a Washington House minimum-wage bill Tuesday, arguing that it made no economic sense.
"All these arguments are the result of economic illiteracy," he said. Referring to criticisms of his party on climate change, Manweller added, "We get accused all the time of being anti-science. If you vote for this bill, you don't have the right to call anyone 'anti-science.' This is the most anti-science vote of all time."
Manweller's remarks came as the House debated Rep. Jessyn Farrell's bill to raise Washington's minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2019.
Shortly after Manweller's argument, 51 Democrats voted for the bill and 46 Republicans voted against it, passing the bill and sending it to the Senate. By the same margin, the House also passed a bill Tuesday by Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, to require businesses with more than four employees to provide sick leave for their workers. The amount of required sick leave would vary by the size of the company.
What reception will Farrell's minimum wage bill likely receive in the Senate? "Probably chilly in our caucus," said Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee and GOP caucus chairwoman. The Majority Coalition Caucus of 25 Republicans and one Democrat controls the 49-member Senate.
However, one GOP senator, Mark Miloscia of Federal Way, supports Farrell's concept. So, it's possible that Democrats would need only one more Republican vote in the Senate to pass the House bill, or some version of it.
Farrell's bill would increase the state minimum wage in steps. The proposal is to move the wage to $10 an hour in 2016, $10.50 in 2017, $11 in 2018 and $12 in 2019. A companion Democratic bill in the Senate died immediately. Washington's minimum wage is now $9.47 an hour -- the highest in the nation.
Farrell contended that if someone works all day, five days a week for minimum wage, they should earn enough to make a living. She noted many people are trying to support families with minimum-wage jobs.
On Tuesday, Republicans tried to introduce 12 amendments to the bill to slow down future minimum-wage increases after the $12 target is reached; to add so-called "teen" wages for teenagers that are less than the minimum wage; and, among other things, to set performance reviews to see if the new minimum wage law -- if enacted -- actually improves the economy.
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, took the unusual step of presiding over the House floor debates, quickly ruling that nine of the GOP amendments did not fit the description, title or scope of Farrell's bill. That killed the proposals before the Republicans could debate the Democrats on them. The Democrats easily defeated the other three proposed amendments after short debates.
Chopp and House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said amendments cannot address subjects beyond what is listed in a bill's title or language. Farrell's bill is short -- replacing three paragraphs of state law with four new paragraphs.
House Republicans cried foul over Chopp's blocking of debate on their proposed amendments.
"How can we have a respectful conversation when half of the House is shut out of it?" asked Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton. "I have learned that power trumps consistency," Manweller added.
In their arguments for Farrell's bill, the Democrats argued that 85 percent of minimum-wage earners are adults, with the vast majority of them supporting families. They also said higher minimum wages circulate more money through the economy to help businesses and that the wage will reduce the number of people needing to use state services, saving money for the state.
"We'll put $1 billion in the pockets of people who won't be spending those dollars on Wall Street or on overseas vacations, but spending the money in local businesses," Sullivan said.
The GOP arguments against the bill included the greater burden that would be placed on small businesses and startups. Republicans said the increase would discourage employers from hiring teenagers for their first jobs and put Washington businesses at a disadvantage to Idaho and Oregon businesses with lower minimum wages.
Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, pointed to a Green Giant plant that existed several years ago in Dayton. It hit a financial rough patch and asked the state for an exemption from the minimum wage law, and could not get it. Consequently, Green Giant moved the Dayton plant's work to another state, removing 500 seasonal jobs from that area, Nealey said.
"The minimum wage has been in the back of my mind ever since," he said. "It gutted our economy."
This story has been updated since it first appeared to correct a quote from Rep. Manweller's floor speech.