Minimum wage hike tops Edwards recommendations

John DuPont
Plaquemine Post South

Gov. John Bel Edwards will call upon lawmakers to pass several items he has brought to the agenda several years when the House and Senate convene Monday for the annual legislative session.

A hike in the state minimum wage and close in the gender pay gap will be among his top priorities in the session, Edwards told the Press Club of Baton Rouge at its weekly luncheon March 9.

He also will target funding hikes for early childhood education, workforce development, along with laws related to auto insurance premiums.

The bills on minimum wage and gender pay gaps have been a target since Edwards took office in 2016, but the bills have never made it further than committee discussion.

New Orleans Democrat Rep. Troy Carter will once again sponsor the minimum wage bill on the governor’s behalf.

The legislation would begin a gradual increase in $7.25 per hour minimum wage, starting with a hike to $9.00 per hour in January 2021 and up to $10 hourly by the end of the year.

We’ve fallen too far behind,” Edwards said. “It’s up to us because Congress has been out of the business on that since 2009, and I know that the overwhelming majority of the people in Louisiana want that.”

Edwards, a Democrat, has seen his recommendation stifled by Republicans during the last four years.

The GOP has argued that the hourly wage is not intended to serve as a livable wage, and that it would hurt small businesses and lead to cuts in hiring.

The gender equity gap, also a priority in his January 2016 inaugural speech, has also failed to gain ground in the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

Louisiana has the highest pay gap in the country, he said.

Pay should be based on merit, not gender,” he said. “It not only hurts ladies, but entire families – especially children supported by mothers, and those children are being adversely affected by the gender gap in pay.”

The legislation would also ban employers from retaliating against workers for mentioning their salary.

Edwards also wants to focus on a maternal mortality review, which would ensure that all hospitals have policies to investigate the death of pregnant patients.

The Louisiana maternal rate exceeds the national average, and the number is four times higher among African American women, he said.

It’s unacceptable,” Edwards said.

In another issue related to gender, Edwards said he would ban discriminatory rates on auto insurance based on gender, separate or widowed, and personnel in the military.

It’s the common sense, right thing to do,” he said.

His education agenda include a an additional $25 million for early childhood on top of the $20 million in last year’s budget. The additional revenue does not include $33 million in federal grants.

He also wants to dedicate $39 million to an increase in the Minimum Foundation Program, the mechanism which determines funding allocation to state public school systems.

Edwards also wants lawmakers to approve another hike in teacher pay, although the exact amount is not yet determined.

The Revenue Estimating Committee’s refusal to recognize new funds in the state coffers has held back any exact pay hike amounts, he said.

We need it to pass a budget, otherwise we have a budget without a balance (which the state constitution forbids),” Edwards said. “Hopefully, they will recognize it soon and we will be able to move forward.”