LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A proposal to increase Nebraska's minimum wage to $9 an hour died in the Legislature on Monday after lawmakers fell five votes short of the support needed to push it through a first-round vote.
The bill stalled on a 20-20 vote Monday night. In an unusual move, opponents sat silently while supportive lawmakers argued in favor of the measure that would gradually raise the state's hourly wage from $7.25, same as the federal minimum wage, to $9 by 2017.
"I'm disappointed, and I think the biggest thing that I'm disappointed in is that no one who was an opponent to the bill stood up and said why they're opposed," said Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, the bill's lead sponsor.
Nordquist said the minimum wage has not increased in Nebraska since 2009. Twenty-one states have minimum wages above the federal minimum, including Colorado and Missouri.
Opponents also defeated several amendments that would have exempted small- and mid-sized businesses, and allowed companies to exclude employees who have worked for them for less than two years.
Business groups opposed the legislation, saying it would have increased their labor costs and made them less competitive. Yet several polls have shown that most Nebraskans support raising the minimum wage.
Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion, who voted against the bill, said lawmakers shouldn't set a minimum wage for employees who may not have the skills to justify what they cost an employer.
"This is a victory for free-market capitalism," he said.
Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft, who also voted against the bill, said many employment opportunities in her district start at minimum wage but increase after workers receive training. Employers have their own obligations, she said.
"If they're paying more then perhaps there won't be enough," she said.
Lawmakers also rejected a proposal to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers, who currently make $2.13 an hour. Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, who proposed the amendment, said it has fallen to states to move issues like this forward because of the gridlock in Washington.
"We do this because nothing is happening in Washington DC to help working people," he said. "Nothing."
The bill is LB943
Associated Press writer Grant Schulte contributed to this report from Lincoln.