Competing minimum wage bills moving along

SANTA FE — With four days left in this year’s 60-day legislative session, two different New Mexico minimum wage bills are inching toward Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk — and jockeying with one another for positioning.

While both measures still face hurdles, they appeared to have good odds Tuesday of gaining legislative approval in both the House and Senate.

If that were to happen, Martinez, the state’s two-term Republican governor would be able to choose which one she likes better — or she could veto them both.

The governor hasn’t tipped her hand as to which, if either, bill she might sign.

“The governor supports raising the minimum wage so long that it’s in line with neighboring states and doesn’t hurt small businesses,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said earlier this month.

The two wage bills in play — Senate Bill 386 and House Bill 442 — both aim to increase New Mexico’s $7.50-per hour minimum wage, which hasn’t gone up since 2009.

But the measures have some key differences. The Senate-approved bill calls for a $9 per hour minimum wage and would allow employers to pay a lower training wage of $8 per hour for newly hired employees.

Meanwhile, the House-approved bill calls for a slightly higher minimum wage — of $9.25 per hour — but includes a provision blocking local labor ordinances regulating employee work schedules, which is not found in the Senate bill.

During a Tuesday hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, the sponsor of the Senate bill, suggested the Democratic-controlled Senate would not be in favor of the provision dealing with local ordinances.Sanchez, Clemente_9873 8x10 300 dpi

“Politically, I think pre-emption would kill this bill,” Sanchez said.

“I think a lot of us would like to pay even more, but … I think this bill the way it is will get us across the finish line,” he later added.

His bill was approved by the House committee via a 7-4 vote, which sent it on to the House floor. Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, joined with Democratic committee members in casting “yes” votes on the measure.

However, some committee members questioned the inclusion of a lower training wage, saying it could be manipulated by employers to stifle employee pay levels.

“To me, your proposal is just a little too low,” said Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, who still ended up voting for the bill.

While the Senate bill was heading to the House floor, the House-approved minimum wage bill was poised to be voted on later Tuesday in its final Senate committee.

The two bills would not affect local minimum wage ordinances in place in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces. Santa Fe’s minimum wage is the state’s highest — it’s now at $11.08 per hour.

Among neighboring states, Arizona and Colorado currently have minimum wages in excess of $9 per hour, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. However, the minimum wages of Texas, Oklahoma and Utah are all set at the federal minimum — $7.25 per hour.

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