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Council members Erika Green, left, and Donna Collins-Lewis speak during a meeting of the metro council, Wednesday, February 28, 2018, at City Hall in Baton Rouge, La.

Baton Rouge's Metro Council has declined to support a statewide effort to allow local governments to raise the minimum wage.

Councilwoman Erika Green had asked her colleagues to formally back House Bill 422. The proposal would allow Louisiana municipalities to raise the minimum wage within their own jurisdictions. Her formal resolution, however, failed to garner enough support during Wednesday evening's meeting.

The issue elicited lengthy, at times emotional, debate along party lines.

Councilwoman Chauna Banks, a school counselor, said she has students she hasn't seen in months because they turned 18 and their underpaid parents told them to get a job to pitch in and help the family make ends meet. She and other Democrats urged the council to support the wage bill, as local councils in New Orleans, Alexandria and Shreveport have done.

It's not just teenagers making $7.25 an hour, Green said. The average low-wage earner is 35, a year older than Green herself, the councilwoman pointed out.

Several members of the Unleash Local labor group attended the meeting and argued that raising the minimum has been associated with better mental and even physical health in a community. Speakers also emphasized the bill is an attempt to let local leaders like the Metro Council represent the areas they serve.

Republican council members, however, were unwilling to support any legislation that might be a step toward raising the minimum wage in Baton Rouge.

Denise Amoroso said she and her husband once owned a small business with about 10 employees, and even small raises had cut into their finances. They closed down, and all their employees lost their jobs, she said.

Dwight Hudson said business owners shouldn't be thought of as bonus-hungry villains, but as the types of people who sometimes have to pawn their cars to make payroll.

In the final vote, Banks, Green, LaMont Cole and Donna Collins-Lewis voted in favor of the resolution. Amoroso, Hudson, Barbara Freiberg, Matt Watson, Trae Welch and Scott Wilson voted against. Tara Wicker was absent, and Chandler Loupe was out of the room for the vote.

In other business, drivers now face fines of up to $1,000 and 250 hours of community service for cutting into a police escort. The stiffer penalties come after several officers were wounded or killed while escorting funeral processions or large vehicles.

Baton Rouge Police Lt. David Wallace compared the change to upping fines for parking in handicapped spots. When the city-parish raised those fees, drivers changed their behavior, and police hope procession laws with a little more bite will keep officers safe.

The department is also studying ways they can improve safety while escorting mourners, Chief Murphy Paul said. Now, the department assigns two motorcycle officers per 25 vehicles. They may up that to two per 10 vehicles, so each officer has fewer vehicles to oversee, Paul and other officers said. Or they may cap the official procession at 10 vehicles and have everyone else drive to the cemetery without escort.



Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.