Democrats seek to raise the minimum wage

Amy Crowfoot, KUSA

DENVER – Two bills that could raise minimum wage in Colorado face an uphill battle after passing out of committee Monday.

Rep. Jovan Melton (D-Aurora) says it is not a partisan issue and he hopes the Republicans support the measure. Republicans, however, have signaled that both bills are a longshot.

Currently, local governments in Colorado are not allowed to set their own minimum wage. They must adhere to the state established minimum wage of $8.23 per hour.

HB15-1300 would repeal the current law and allow for cities and counties in Colorado to set a minimum wage higher than the state rate.

Melton says that the cost of living in different areas of Colorado varies and this bill would allow for local governments in Colorado to account for this.

A second bill, HCR15-1001, would create a ballot question asking for a raise in Colorado's minimum wage. The proposed increase would be spread over four years raising the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour in 2017 and adding $1 per hour each year until it reaches $12.50 in 2020.

Clair Levy of the Colorado Center on Law and Policy said that 76 percent of Coloradans would support such a ballot issue and 66% of Coloradans would vote for a raise in the minimum wage.

This bill needs a two-thirds vote out of both state chambers to make it onto the ballot. Because the house Democrats would need 10 Republicans to vote with them to pass the measure, the prospects of the issue making it to a November vote are not good.

Many workers at a rally preceding the bill hearing this afternoon said that the current state minimum wage amounts to living in poverty. They would like to see a minimum wage that would provide a "living wage" allowing them to support themselves and their families. Several individuals opposed to the bill argued in testimony that raising the minimum wage would raise the cost of goods and services forcing businesses to raise prices or even close.

House Republicans argue that this is not a debate about a living wage. They say that minimum wage is intended to be paid as a starter wage for those hoping to advance their careers. Rep. Dan Thurlow (R-Grand Junction) said that raising the minimum wage would hurt the very people it is intended to help by raising the price of goods. He also said that he'd prefer to allow wages to increase as the market demands.

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