State minimum wage bill flies through Senate

By Karl Terry: Freedom Newspapers

Moving with a speed that surprised some legislators, the state Senate approved a minimum wage bill 35-7 late Friday, sending it to the House before a House version had a chance to get on track.

Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, said she’s fundamentally opposed to a state minimum wage and believes the federal government will address the matter. She said she wound up voting for the Senate bill because she’s so opposed to the House version.

“The reason it moved quickly was because we knew something was going to pass,” Hobbs said, comparing the Senate’s version with the House bill. “It got down to the lesser of two evils.”

Kernan, who represents Curry, Roosevelt, Eddy, Lea and Chaves counties, said she had gauged her constituents as a little more open to bringing the wage up a little. She said with language in the Senate bill that exempts agriculture, including dairies, the bill was one she felt she could live with. In her hometown area of Hobbs, she said wages are well above even the proposed minimums because of the employment demand in the oilfields.

Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, said she’s not a fan of a state minimum wage either.
“We’ve discussed this, and I think it’s a little premature when (it appears) the federal government is going to pass one,” Crook said.

She said she’s not sure what the outcome of either bill will be in the House, but points out that the House bill is sponsored by Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, and she believes it’s doubtful he’ll give up easily on his version.

“I think it’s a federal issue and the federal government is addressing it,” Rep. Keith Gardner, R-Roswell, said. “I’m not sure why we’re in such a rush.”

Gardner says he opposes a state minimum wage because it would make New Mexico less competitive with surrounding states that don’t have one. He said he also feels it amounts to a tax on small business.

“Personally I prefer that it not happen altogether,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting to watch as it goes through.”

Fast facts

SB 324 passed the Senate 35-7 Friday and now moves to the House for approval. Here are a few key components:

—Provides for an increase to $6.50 this year
—Would increase to $7.50 by 2009
—Exempts certain agricultural activities such as dairies and chili production
—Precludes local governments from passing a higher local minimum wage until 2013, grandfathering those already in place such as that in Santa Fe

HB759 is currently in the House Labor and Human Resources Committee. Here are a few key components:
—Provides for an increase to $6.50 this year
—Would increase to $7.50 by January 2008