Bills on minimum wage, LGBT non-discrimination move to full state Senate for consideration_lowres

State Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, author of Senate Bill 153, which would increase the state minimum wage to $8.50 by 2019, and Senate Bill 155, which would enact a non-discrimination act for Louisiana employees.

Short of the two-thirds support needed in the state Senate, a proposal pushed by the governor to let Louisiana vote on a $9-an-hour minimum wage was pulled from consideration Tuesday, but only after a line of Democratic senators delivered impassioned speeches in support of the legislation. 

State Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, brought the constitutional amendment as a way to "change the trajectory of the state" and provide a hand up to the state's poorest workers. 

Carter and several other members urged their colleagues to let the public vote on the idea, even if they didn't personally support it. But Carter eventually pulled the measure without a vote, conceding he did not have the support of 26 senators needed to pass a constitutional amendment. 

"I’m so sorry to report today, regrettably, that we are woefully short and do not have the votes," Carter said before returning the bill to the Senate calendar. "We’ve been ticking all day." 

Senate Bill 155 was part of Gov. John Bel Edwards' legislative agenda and represents the fourth consecutive year he has failed to pass a minimum wage hike. 

Edwards campaigned on a higher minimum wage four years ago, and backed legislation in his first three years as governor to add a statewide $8.50-an-hour minimum wage. After being rejected each time by the GOP-led Legislature, Edwards and Carter tried this year to let the public vote on a $9-an-hour minimum wage. 

Carter said Tuesday he approaches the proposal each year with "enthusiasm." Despite being told the state House would never approve of a minimum wage hike, he urged his members to "lead by example." 

Democrats pointed to polling that has shown widespread support for a higher minimum wage in Louisiana. The LSU Public Policy Research Lab recently found 81% of Louisiana residents support an $8.50 minimum wage. A majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents support an $8.50 wage, the poll found.

The scoop on state politics in your inbox

Get the Louisiana politics insider details once a week from us. Sign up today.

Nearly 60% of people even support a minimum wage of $15 an hour, according to the poll, which was released recently as part of the 2019 Louisiana Survey.

Louisiana does not have a state minimum wage, so the effective minimum wage is the federal rate of $7.25 an hour.

The Louisiana Budget Project says increasing the state's minimum wage to $9 an hour would directly affect 112,700 workers, boosting annual wages by a total of $156 million. The move would disproportionately affect women workers and people of color, according to a report compiled by LBP, which cited research from the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that analyzes policies that impact working families.

Business groups have consistently lobbied against minimum wage hikes, arguing the government should not be able to tell businesses what they must pay workers. The influential Louisiana Association of Business and Industry called the idea a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

LABI and the National Federation of Independent Business also recently successfully lobbied against a measure that would repeal a law that prevent cities from setting their own minimum wage, partly because it would create a “patchwork” of different policies throughout the state.

Carter’s measure would have needed a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate to pass, as well as a majority vote of Louisianians.

The vote would have taken place Oct. 12 of this year, when voters will cast ballots in the state's gubernatorial primary. Edwards is running for reelection this year as the only sitting Democratic governor in the Deep South. 

Follow Sam Karlin on Twitter, @samkarlin.