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Nevada Senate approves minimum wage increase bill

CARSON CITY — A Republican-backed bill to overhaul Nevada’s overtime law and increase the minimum wage for some workers was approved Friday by the state Senate on a party-line vote, with Democrats calling the measure a “slap in the face” to the working poor.

The vote on Senate Bill 193 was 11-9. It now goes to the Assembly, where passage is uncertain.

The bill would eliminate a provision in Nevada’s overtime law that employees be paid at time-and-one-half for hours worked in excess of eight hours within a 24-hour period. Instead, overtime would kick in after 40 hours worked in one week.

The law does not apply to higher wage earners or those covered under collective bargaining agreements.

Democrats argued the change would hurt many part-time low-wage earners by requiring them to work longer hours without overtime compensation.

“What they are asking us to do as a state is trade a 75-cent wage increase for overtime pay benefits,” said state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-Las Vegas. “I think it’s a slap in the face to our workers.”

Four separate amendments pitched by the Democratic minority were rejected on party-line votes.

“If we pass this bill without amending it, it’s a pay cut for all people working more than eight hours a day and less than 40 hours a week,” Atkinson said. He said roughly 350,000 Nevadans currently qualify for overtime under existing law, and many of those do not work 40 hours in a week.

SB193 originally addressed only the overtime law. Many small business owners argued that eliminating overtime for more than eight hours within 24 hours would give them flexibility in scheduling and help employees by allowing them to work more hours or juggle their time.

But a surprise amendment inserted in March by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Labor and Energy to also raise Nevada’s minimum wage to $9 an hour if employers do not offer health insurance caught Democrats off guard.

State Sen. Patricia Farley, R-Las Vegas, made the surprise proposal to insert the minimum wage increase.

“Business owners pay either way, in the taxes for welfare services or you can pay someone who shows up to work,” Farley, owner of a construction firm, said in an earlier interview. “I would rather pay someone to show up for work.”

She calculated a $9 per hour minimum wage would mean $130 more per month for most low-wage workers.

The current minimum wage is $7.25 for workers who are offered health care coverage and $8.25 for those without workplace policies.

Nevada voters in 2006 approved a constitutional amendment setting the state minimum wage at $1 above the federal minimum wage if no employer-paid health coverage is offered.

SB193 would only raise the minimum wage for those workers who are not offered employer-paid insurance coverage. The rate would remain at $7.25 per hour for those with access to employer-paid policies.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to raise both minimum wage tiers to $10.10 and $9.10; $9.50 and $8.50; and $9 and $8, depending on whether insurance is offered. Each failed 11-9.

Another proposal requiring overtime after 10 hours in a day also was rejected.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, did not allow floor debate on the amendments, using his leadership to call for votes upon their introduction and explanation.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval was noncommittal on if he would sign the bill.

”The governor has made building the new Nevada economy a priority of his administration. He feels the best way to improve our economy and help all Nevadans is to continue diversifying the economy with a focus on attracting high-paying jobs of the 21st century,” spokeswoman Mari St. Martin said in an email.

“There are several bills and resolutions related to the minimum wage that have been introduced in the Legislature. The governor is paying close attention to this debate and if a bill reaches his desk will consider the legislation based on its final language as approved by lawmakers.”

Democrats have introduced their own proposal to increase the minimum wage. One would amend the state constitution to raise the rate to $15 per hour, but chances of those passing under a GOP majority are unlikely.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Find her on Twitter: @SandraChereb

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