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Gov. John Bel Edwards, right, speaks to the joint session of the legislature after it opened for its two month fiscal session Monday April 8, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La.

Gov. John Bel Edwards is again voicing support for a minimum wage hike in Louisiana -- a key issue he campaigned on four years ago.

But after three years of rejection at the State Capitol, Edwards is setting his sights a little higher -- 50 cents to be exact, from his original $8.50 an hour push to now advocating a $9 an hour minimum wage -- and making an appeal to let voters have the final decide.

“For three years now, I have asked you to support an increase in the minimum wage in this state, and yet, many workers in Louisiana are still no closer to a wage that can support a family or bring them out of poverty,” Edwards said during his annual State of the State address on Monday. “Even if you have in the past not supported a minimum wage for our workers, give the people of this state a right to decide.”

Edwards noted that Arkansas recently approved an $11-an-hour minimum wage with a ballot initiative supported by 68 percent of voters.

“We are falling further and further behind,” he said. “I challenge everyone in this room to look at your family’s finances and try to imagine making it on $7.25 an hour. For thousands of Louisianans, that is their reality.”

“I believe it’s time to look outside the walls of this building and let the people of Louisiana decide if raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do,” he added.

Edwards said he supports legislation that would establish a $9 per hour minimum wage effective July 2020, if Louisiana voters agree with the increase. The minimum wage bill that Edwards is backing, Senate Bill 60, is sponsored by Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans.

Minimum-wage workers in Louisiana make $7.25 an hour because it remains one of just five states that never adopted a state-level minimum wage rate and, therefore, defaults to the federal rate that hasn't changed in a decade. Several other states have set minimum wage levels at the federal rate, as well. The minimum wage went up in 18 other states at the start of 2018, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The previous year, 19 states saw minimum wage hikes.

Edwards previously called for a minimum wage hike of $1.25 over two years to $8.50 an hour.

Edwards, a Democrat who took office in 2016 and is seeking re-election this fall, has faced pushback on his minimum wage proposal in the GOP-controlled Legislature after intense lobbying from business groups, who argue that business owners should have flexibility.

During Edwards' speech, the National Federation of Independent Businesses' Louisiana chapter tweeted a photo of electronic kiosks that have replaced cashiers in some McDonalds locations.  

"This is what government mandated higher labor costs look like," NFIB tweeted.

Two Republicans have announced plans to challenge Edwards as he seeks a second term – Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone and U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, of Alto.

The election is Oct. 12. A runoff will take place on Nov. 16 between the top two vote-getters, if no one gets more than 50 percent in the primary.


Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.