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Senate committee pushes forward wage hike


A state Senate committee is pushing to increase the state minimum wage by $2 to $9.25 per hour.

The move comes a day after President Barack Obama called for a federal wage hike from $7.25 to $9 in the State of the Union address.

Hawaii’s hourly minimum wage is set at $7.25.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted today to increase the wage to $9.25 over the next two years.

The committee also voted to adjust the wage along with inflation starting in 2016.

The committee originally considered the matter last week but met again today to adjust the wording of the bill.

Senate Judiciary Committee Vice Chair Maile Shimabukuro said the increase is necessary to help Hawaii residents afford the state’s high cost of living.

"There really is a disconnect between the cost of living in Hawaii and the wages you earn in Hawaii," Shimabukuro told The Associated Press.

She said she knows homeless people who work but still can’t afford rent in Hawaii.

"There’s something wrong with that picture," she said.

Several social service nonprofits support the bill and urged lawmakers to adopt it during a public hearing last week.

The groups were opposed by members of Hawaii’s business community.

Daniel Nellis, of the Dole Food Co., said the increase would hurt Hawaii’s agricultural industry, which relies on affordable unskilled labor.

Jenai Wall, chairman of Foodland Supermarket Ltd., said the proposed increase would force the supermarket to cut jobs and reduce benefits.

Tim Lyons, vice president of the Hawaii Business League, said it’s unfair to compare Hawaii’s wages with other states because Hawaii businesses have to pay for health care and other benefits under state law.

"Given today’s realities, there is no extra money for most companies to pay more wages," Lyons said.

Sen. Sam Slom, the only Republican in Hawaii’s 25-member state Senate, was the only committee member to oppose the wage hike. Democrats have control over both of Hawaii’s legislative chambers.

The minimum wage increase is part of Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s agenda this year.

The Democratic governor told lawmakers in January that he wants the minimum wage to increase by $1.50 by next year.

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