TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

State News

February 11, 2014

York among four House Republicans catching heat over minimum wage vote

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service

Although it won’t likely pass the Republican controlled Senate, a bill to raise Kentucky’s minimum wage which passed the Democrat-controlled House last week is already having a political impact.

Four House Republicans voted for the measure – and their leadership is none too pleased with them.

Meanwhile, some Republicans are also angry about some legislative sleight of hand by Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, who appears to have oiled the tracks for the bill’s passage.

Stumbo sponsored House Bill 1 that would raise the minimum wage in Kentucky from the present $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour over three years. It passed the House last Thursday 54-44. Two Democrats voted against the bill and four Republicans voted for the measure.

Republicans charge the bill is a “job killer” and nothing more than a political maneuver to bolster Democrats’ chances of holding onto control of the House in this year’s election and to help Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes’ campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Grimes has called for an identical increase in the federal minimum wage and hammered incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell for opposing such an increase.

But House Republicans Jill York, Grayson; C.B. Embry, Morgantown; Dwight Butler, Harned; and Jim Stewart, Flat Lick, voted for the bill. CNHI was unable to contact Stewart, but each of the other three said their votes reflected the views of their district.

“But leadership has told me they were less than pleased with my vote,” York said Monday.  Embry said the same thing.

“I voted my district,” Embry said. “My emails, faxes and phone calls were two to one in favor of the bill. My leadership, though, they weren’t too happy.”

House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, acknowledged, “There were people (in the Republican caucus) who were upset.” But he said no retribution was meted out to the four.

“There haven’t been any committee changes,” Hoover said.

“Now there are some internal caucus committees we’ve been looking at changes to,” Hoover said. He declined to say what those might be.

York, vice chair of the Education Committee, and Butler, vice chair of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, are responsible for keeping the Republican caucus informed about those areas and seen as authorities on their respective committees. Neither York nor Butler would say if either anticipated that changing.

Butler isn’t running for re-election while Embry is running for a Senate seat rather than his House seat.

Rep. Fitz Steele, D-Hazard, said Monday he hadn’t been punished by Democrat leadership for his no vote. Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, was absent Monday and CNHI couldn’t reach him for comment.

Some who voted against the measure may have had second thoughts by Monday. The Bluegrass Poll – conducted on behalf of The Courier-Journal, Lexington Herald Leader, WHAS-TV and WLKY-TV – released results Monday that indicate Kentucky voters favor the increase by a 2-1 margin.

It found 79 percent of Democrats, 59 percent of independents and 45 percent of Republicans favor increasing the minimum wage.

“I’m surprised the polling numbers weren’t higher when you look at the polling questions,” Hoover said.

“But the other side is there are  lot of ramifications (to raising the wage) that people don’t realize, like unfunded mandates on local governments, unfunded mandates on schools, and the obvious impact on unemployment,” Hoover said.

(Both sides cite competing studies which show different impacts on employment of raising the minimum wage.)

Hoover was also unhappy about a parliamentary procedure Stumbo employed to help pass his bill.

Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, had filed an amendment to HB 1 to repeal the requirement that publicly funded construction for education pay the area’s “prevailing wage.” Stumbo subsequently filed a separate bill, HB 348, with essentially identical language to that in DeCesare’s amendment.

Under House Rule 60, if an amendment to a bill contains “substantially” the same language as another bill, the chair can rule it out of order as a “piggyback,” a term for placing another bill onto one which is more likely to pass.  It would take a majority vote of the House to overrule the chair.

DeCesare didn’t call for his amendment during debate on the minimum wage bill. But after the House passed the minimum wage bill, Stumbo withdrew HB 348.

Some Republicans hinted Stumbo used the provision to trade for yes votes on his minimum wage bill but Stumbo laughed at that. He said House members know the measure is popular among voters.

As for using the bill to outmaneuver DeCesare’s prevailing wage amendment, Stumbo laughed.

“It was a good bill – for a day, and it did its job,” he said.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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