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House approves minimum wage bill for W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- House lawmakers passed a measure Wednesday increasing West Virginia's hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.75 by the start of 2016.

Close to a dozen delegates spoke before the House overwhelmingly approved the measures. Amidst smiles and laughter, delegates passed the bill by a margin of 89 to five. Six members didn't vote.

Several delegates joined lead sponsor Jason Barrett, D-Jefferson, in speaking support of the bill. Barrett, who owns a restaurant in his home county, said the bill puts a little more money in the pockets of more than 100,000 West Virginians.

"It's time for the people at the bottom to get a little trickle up," said Delegates Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson.

Delegates Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, and David Walker, D-Clay, said they thought the bill could do more but it is an improvement.

Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, supported the bill, as did most Republicans. He said he hoped the House would also consider economic or educational changes for which the GOP advocates and believes will also improve working opportunities.

Jamie Gudiel, a mother of three from Morgantown, watched the discussion from one of the House galleries. She heard the discussion move from minimum wage helping create a better work ethic to those arguing minimum wage provides a little more flexibility in a tight budget.

She heard the jokes made by some lawmakers, about minimum wage jobs that used to exist. She didn't think they were funny.

"I'm 35. I've had jobs in the past. I feel I have a great work ethic," Gudiel said after the vote.

"I don't think that's the problem."

Gudiel and her husband have three children, ages 8, 5 and 3. She works two jobs - one of which is in retail.

The increase will defray some costs for clothes (the family also swaps clothes with others from time to time). She thought it might allow her and her husband to go to the movies or out to dinner occasionally.

It won't let her quit her second job.

"It's a step," Gudiel said.

"It's a small step, but it's still a step."

Gaudil attended Wednesday's session with representatives from The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, a left-leaning policy organization based in Charleston.

According to the center, the increase will "directly affect" almost 92,500 workers, with an "indirect" effect on another 34,600. Most are families making less than $50,000, according to the center's analysis of population survey microdata.

"Every worker deserves fair wages and a chance at the American Dream," said Ted Boettner, head of the center, in a press release.

"Today we are one step closer to an economy that works for all West Virginians.

The bill also makes two key changes that actually slightly help workers who rely on tips.

Right now, West Virginia employers can pay 20 percent less than the $7.25 an hour -- $5.80 -- so long as a person still makes minimum wage with tips. However, the definition of "employer" exempts any business where 80 percent of the employees are subject to federal minimum wage law.

That definition exempts most West Virginia employers from the law, said Sean O'Leary, an analyst with the center. Therefore most of those employees who also rely on tips earn the federal standard of $2.13 from their employer.

The bill eliminates that employer exemption, but increases amount West Virginia employers can credit for tipped employees. With the changes in code and after the $1.50 an hour increase takes effect, tipped workers would make about $2.63 an hour before tips.

The House bill now moves to the Senate, which is also working on a minimum wage increase measure.

Alyson Clements, who works for the center, said if a bill becomes law, it will contain aspects of both the House and Senate measures.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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