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Kentucky Democrats to Push for Statewide Minimum Wage Hike

The debate over raising the minimum wage is heating up in Louisville, and Democratic state lawmakers want to take the issue statewide in 2015.

Rep. Rick Rand, who chairs the Kentucky House committee on Appropriations and Revenue, said the time is right for a wage hike in the state.

"We were going to phase it in over three years so it's not going to be an immediate shock to employers. And I strongly believe that those dollars are going to be turned over in the economy,” said Rand, a Democrat from Bedford.

“People making minimum wage tend to consume more—they spend more of their paychecks because they have to. I think it would be a net positive for us here in Kentucky and I believe you'll see another minimum wage bill come out of our house next year."

Rand isn't alone on this. Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has already announced that the issue will be one of the top House priorities in the coming months.

Last year, a bill to increase the wage took the top spot among House bills, labeled HB1. Despite their efforts, though, the bill never passed the Senate.

Rep. Reggie Meeks, a Louisville Democrat, said the sharp improvements in the state's economy have created a good environment for a wage increase, noting record drops in unemployment and steady job growth in all sectors.

He used Louisville businesses as an example. He said some city businesses may pay more than others to bring their workers' wages up,

“It proves that these people who are against an increase to the minimum wage, who use fear tactics to scare voters and business owners, that they're wrong.” Meeks said. “If you look at other states where the minimum wage increase has happened, those problems aren't occurring."

Republican legislators contacted for this story did not respond to requests for comment.

Kim Saylor Brannock said plenty of factors could influence a rise in wages outside of legislation—a shrinking labor pool in Kentucky, as older workers retire, could also persuade employers to pay workers more.

Following on the heels of an expected Dec. 11 Metro Council hearing on the minimum wage, state lawmakers will convene on Jan. 6 for the 2015 session of the Kentucky General Assembly.

Sen. Gerald Neal, a Louisville Democrat, said the reasons to raise the minimum wage boil down to more than just money. He says the consequences of low wages impact the dignity of Kentucky workers.

“We have to look in depth in our society in terms of bridging the gaps in the inequities that we have economically because it has real consequences—not just in the practical, the bread and butter on the table—but in the psychological aspects and the enjoyment of life itself.” Neal said.

The 2015 legislative sessions begins in early January.