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State lawmakers advance minimum wage hike

    The state Legislature convened its 2014 session this morning with a nod to Hawaii lawmakers from the past 55 years and a call for an increase in the state's minimum wage.

A key committee in the state House of Representatives advanced a bill that would increase the minimum wage to about $10 an hour, lower than the $10.10 that was previously called for in the proposal.

Lawmakers in the House Finance committee heard a crush of testimony on the bill Wednesday.

The minimum wage in Hawaii is now $7.25 an hour. Under the proposal, that would gradually rise every year until it reaches $10 per hour in 2018.

Opponents said employers have too many burdens in a fragile economy. Hawaii is the only state that has a law requiring employers to provide health care, which also drives up costs, said Sherry Menor-McNamara, representing the Chamber of Commerce.

“That’s a lot for a small business to pay,” Menor-McNamara said. She asked the committee to spread out the increases over a longer period of time.

But those pushing for the increase disagreed, saying people need to make enough money to support themselves and their families.

“Four years is just much too long, when the price of everything else goes up every day,” said Marsha Joyner, representing the Chamber of Commerce for People with Disabilities. “You try — and none of you have done this — try to live on $7.25 per hour. You have to work two hours for a carton of milk, or 11 hours to buy a bus pass to get to work.”

The committee also made changes to the tip credit. The tip credit requires employers to pay tipped workers slightly less than other employees on an hourly basis. Under a previous version of the proposal, the tip credit would kick in if an employee made more than 250 percent of the poverty level. But the committee changed that so that the tip credit would kick in if an employee made around $16.10 an hour, including tips. That would make it easier for employers to calculate, lawmakers said.

The Senate passed the bill earlier last month. Its next stop is the House floor.

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