WASHINGTON -- After President Barack Obama suggested raising the minimum wage to $9 per hour in his State of the Union speech, rising Republican star Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) quickly joined other prominent GOP lawmakers in denouncing the proposal as bad policy.

"I want people to make a lot more than $9," Rubio said Wednesday. "Nine dollars is not enough. The problem is that you can't do that by mandating it in the minimum wage laws. Minimum wage laws have never worked in terms of helping the middle class attain more prosperity."

"I don't think a minimum wage law works," he said flatly.

Rubio's criticism went a good deal further than that of many other skeptics. He didn't say it was merely a bad time to raise the minimum wage, given the sluggish economy -- he suggested minimum wage laws themselves are inherently foolish.

Rubio spokesman Alex Conant clarified that the senator believes in the minimum wage as a baseline protection, but not as a means to upward mobility.

"Minimum wages are designed to protect workers, and he supports having them to do that," Conant said. "But minimum wage laws have never been the reason we have a middle class in America."

Indeed, years ago, Rubio seems to have recognized the importance of such laws in protecting the working poor. According to Florida press reports from 2003, when Rubio was a state lawmaker, he supported a proposal that would ramp up penalties on agricultural growers whose laborers weren't paid the legal minimum wage.

As the Bradenton Herald reported in 2003, the "anti-slavery" bill would have declared that growers were responsible for the payment of migrant workers, even if the workers were technically employed by middlemen. The measure would have called for the payment of double the minimum wage in cases where farm workers hadn't been paid the legal minimum, according to the paper.

Florida records of the failed bill, HB 1327, list Rubio as a co-sponsor. While it was championed by advocates for low-wage workers, the measure was opposed by the Florida Farm Bureau and the Florida Association of Fruit and Vegetable Growers.

According to reports in the Palm Beach Post, Rubio was a "crucial ally" to Rep. Frank Peterman (D-St. Petersburg) in supporting the bill. "My heart goes out to the workers in this industry," Rubio said at the time. "Like a lot of my constituents, they come over to this country and work hard and try to get ahead and they should be treated fairly."

But, given the roadblocks the measure soon hit, the Post also reported that backers of the bill were "puzzled that [Rubio] can't exert more influence" among his Republican colleagues to move the bill forward.

Rubio explained to the paper that he couldn't persuade the then-chair of the agriculture committee, Republican Rep. Marty Bowen (Haines City), to get on board.

"It was obvious to me that she had problems with that bill," Rubio said.

The proposal ultimately died.

Of course, ramping up penalties on unscrupulous employers who don't pay the legal minimum is different from raising the minimum wage itself. But, unlike the Rubio criticizing Obama's proposal this week, the Rubio of 2003 seemed to believe that workers need some kind of protection from an unfettered free market, and that workers on the lowest rung of the economic ladder are the most likely to be swindled or otherwise abused.

This post has been updated with comments from Rubio's office.

Earlier on HuffPost:

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  • Addressing The Republican National Convention

    Florida Senator Marco Rubio addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • At The Republican National Convention

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  • Playful On A Romney Bus Tour

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  • At The Elton John AIDS Foundation and UNAIDS Breakfast

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  • Campaigning For Mitt Romney

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  • With Mel Martinez At NALEO Conference

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  • At The XIX International AIDS Conference

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  • At the Council on Foreign Relations

    US Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL, speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations May 31, 2012 in New York. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Addressing the Latino Coalition's Small Business Summit Luncheon

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  • Unveiling the bipartisan Startup Act 2.0

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  • Questioned by Marvin Kalb

    WASHINGTON - APRIL 25: Brookings guest scholar Marvin Kalb (L) questions Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) after an address on American foreign policy at the Brookings Institution on April 25, 2012 in Washington, DC. Rubio is widely considered to be a possible running mate for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

  • Campaigning with Mitt Romney

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  • Activists Protest Rubio's Support Of "Stand Your Ground" Law

    MIAMI, FL - APRIL 09: Caterina De Quesada and other supporters of Trayvon Martin gather for a rally in front of Florida Senator Marco Rubio's (R-FL) office to ask him to retract his support for Florida's so called 'Stand Your Ground' gun law following the Trayvon Martin killing on April 9, 2012 in Miami, Florida. Martin was killed by George Michael Zimmerman on February 26th while Zimmerman was on neighborhood watch patrol in the gated community of The Retreat at Twin Lakes, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Protesting Rubio's policies on immigration

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  • Senate GOP And Democrats Discuss Supreme Court Oral Arguments On Affordable Care Act

    WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 27: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (L) and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi participate in a news conference about the Supreme Court's second day of hearings on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act March 27, 2012 in Washington, DC. Bondi and 25 other attorneys general brought the case before the Supreme Court. Both Republicans and Democrats paid close attention to the questions and statements by Justice Anthony Kennedy during the court proceedings. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • On the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

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  • At CPAC 2012

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  • Being greeted at the 2012 Latino Coalition annual economic summit

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  • With David Rivera, Republican candidate for Congress

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  • Ceremonial Swearing-In Held For New Congress Members

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  • At news conference with Senators Lieberman and McCain on Syria

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  • Republican Senators Introduce FY2012 Budget Proposal

    WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 10: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (2nd L) answers reporters' questions during a news conference to introduce a balanced budget proposal with (L-R) Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Sen. Jim DeMint (R_SC), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), and nd Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) at the U.S. Capitol May 10, 2011 in Washington, DC. Toomey said the proposal will balance the federal budget by 2020. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)