Legislative Update: Monday, Jan. 16

capitol-logoMinimum-wage increase debated

By Freddy Monares

Lawmakers in Helena are trying to figure out how much the cost of a hamburger would go up if they raised the state’s minimum wage.

House Bill 169 would raise the minimum wage to a little more than $10 an hour, almost $2 more than the current level. That has some small-business owners worried.

Bennington Ward is the owner of the Golden Harvest Café in Dutton. He says an increase in the minimum wage would also increase overhead costs for business owners.

“There’s just a lot more than $2 an hour I’m going to be shelling out if the wage increases to this amount,” Ward said.

Ward says some of his staff have turned down higher-paying job offers—mainly because they were making more with tips at the restaurant. Montana does not collect data on the amount an employee earns in tips.

But Jules Shindel, the organizing director for the Montana Human Rights Network and Montana Women Vote, called the current minimum wage unlivable.

“The idea that minimum-wage workers are just teenagers with working jobs, or college students working over the summer, is an enormous myth,” Shindel said.

The organizations she represents focus on promoting human rights and the needs of low-income women and families.

“These hard-working Montanans—they serve our food, they keep the lines moving at the grocery store, they care for our children and for our elderly neighbors—they deserve our respect, and that starts with the right to take care of themselves,” Shindel said.

While most supporters of the bill argued that these jobs were being increasingly held by adults, opponents maintained otherwise. Helena Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Ronda Wiggers argued these entry-level positions are important for people just joining the workforce.

“Thanks to Sen. (Brian) Hoven’s patience, my son now knows how to run a push broom, but I would argue that he really wasn’t worth much more than minimum wage,” Wiggers said.

Democratic Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell is the sponsor of the bill. She says the proposed wage increase is nowhere near a living wage in Montana, but it’s a start.

“This is not near that, but it’s something and for 96,000 Montanans, it will help—20 percent of Montana’s workforce,” Dunwell said.

Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.

 

Bill would end cell phone penalties

By Cole Grant

Imagine driving your car while talking on your cell phone, then getting pulled over, ticketed and fined for it. Right now, cities and towns in Montana can individually decide whether or not that’s lawful.

House Bill 194 would change that, barring anyone in the state from being legally punished for driving and using a device. The House Republican carrying the bill, Jeremy Trebas Great Falls, doesn’t think distracted driving is a good idea, but doesn’t think being fined for it is a good idea either.

“So if you’re out there, don’t do that,” he said. “The problem it addresses is that we’re charging huge fines.

“After a third offense in Great Falls, people can be fined more than $500 and assigned up to 40 hours of community service. Rep. Jim Keane, D-Butte said that if a community votes and agrees that cell phones are a problem, “Then they should be able to deal with it in a way that they feel appropriate.”

HB 194 will be heard Tuesday morning at the 2017 Montana Legislature.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.

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