Public hearing held regarding Senate’s plan to prohibit locally-based minimum wage

EDITOR’S NOTE: SB 590 was voted down by the House Judiciary Committee on March 1. However, House rules (# 84) do not allow for the cancellation of scheduled public hearings for bills lost in committee. That fact was not made clear in this article. Thank you to the House Communications Team for providing clarity.

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON.W.Va. – “I’ve been watching the legislature for many years, and things that seem to be dead suddenly get resurrected like Lazarus in the last week of the session.”

That’s what Secretary of State candidate Thornton Cooper told members of  the House Judiciary Committee on Monday, during a public hearing regarding SB 590, a bill which seeks to restrict the ability of local governments to establish a locally-based minimum wage. Cooper was referring to debate surrounding the bill during a previous meeting of the House Judiciary Committee.

As stated in the text of the bill, which was introduced by Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, local governments are prohibited from “requiring private employers to pay employees a wage higher than that set by appropriate state or federal law, establishing a locally-based wage or benefit rate, or establishing work hours or scheduling requirements.”

SB 590 passed the Senate on Feb. 12 by a vote of 28 to five. Voting against its passage were Senators Mike Caputo, D-Marion; Laura Chapman, R-Ohio; Robert Plymale, D-Wayne; Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur; and Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell.

Cooper, who was the only speaker to participate in Monday’s hearing, spoke in opposition of the bill, saying, “I once worked for the federal minimum wage, 55-years-ago when I was 19.”

Cooper said that the federal minimum wage was $1.60 per hour in 1969, when he was a working college student. Cooper further explained that in order to match the purchasing power that $1.60 had in 1969, the federal minimum wage would need to be raised to $13.45 per hour. 

“Basically, I think municipalities and counties should have the opportunity to provide benefits to the people that are in their jurisdiction, above the minimum level set by the state,” Cooper noted. “I certainly think in the case of the minimum wage – the state minimum wage is $8.75 an hour.”

Cooper said that the federal minimum wage was $1.60 per hour in 1969, when he was a working college student. Cooper further explained that in order to match the purchasing power that $1.60 had in 1969, the federal minimum wage would need to be raised to $13.45 per hour. 

“I’m sure many of you have heard about Bernie Sanders trying to raise the federal minimum wage to $15.00 an hour,” Cooper said. “You can argue about whether it should be $13, $14, or $15.00 an hour, but the fact is that our hourly state and federal minimum wages are woefully inadequate in terms of protecting members of the working class.”

“The two summers of 1969 and 1970, that purchasing power was very important to me,” Cooper continued. “I’m for local control, I’m for seeing that the purchasing power of the minimum wage goes up and not down, and I’d also like to make another point about consistency and lack of consistency by this body.”

According to Cooper, on the final day of the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers passed a confusing bill detailing the pay structure of the state’s constitutional officers. 

“The legislature – although you couldn’t understand it from looking at the bill, you had to look at a federal schedule – you raised the salary for the secretary of state, the treasurer, the auditor, the attorney general, and the commissioner of agriculture from $95,000 a year to over $135,000,” Cooper said. “You raised the salary of the governor from $150,000 to over $186,000.”

“The legislature has been trying to make it hard for the people on the bottom to go up, but they created these astronomical salary increases for these six elected officials,” Cooper added. “I would request not only that this bill that was killed last week stays dead, but when you have the next Special Session in May, that you ask the governor […] to repeal that increase. $95,000 a year is plenty […], and $150,000 a year is plenty.”

SB 590 is not currently on the House Judiciary Committee’s Tuesday agenda. RealWV will provide updates regarding the bill’s status as additional information is made available.

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