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California Lawmakers Approve Nation's Highest Statewide Minimum Wage

LOS ANGELES ( — California lawmakers on Thursday approved the nation's highest minimum wage of $15 an hour to take effect over six years.

SB3 was written only a week ago. On Thursday, the bill was debated, voted on and passed in both the state Assembly and state Senate in only a few hours.

Minutes later, Gov. Jerry Brown said he would sign it into law in Los Angeles Monday morning.

The wage hikes would start with a boost from $10 to $10.50 on Jan. 1. Businesses with 25 or fewer employees would have an extra year to comply. Increases of $1 an hour would come every January until 2022. The governor could delay increases in times of budgetary or economic downturns.

It is a major victory for organized labor but a defeat for employers, especially small business owners.

Democrats, who control both legislative chambers in California, called the legislation economic justice and hailed the increase as a blessing to more than two million of the state's poorest workers.

Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, said: "They're working two and three jobs and still can't pay for housing, childcare, food and other necessities of life."

"Colleagues today we are investing in our human capital. We are investing in our future," said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles. "We all believe that lifting these people from poverty into a living wage is one of the biggest economic stimulators that we can have."

"Economic justice is not to be evaded. It is simply to be advanced if we are responsible leaders," said Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, D-Los Angeles.

However, Republicans echoed fears from business owners and economists that the increases will have a negative impact on the U.S. economy. They were furious over the secret talks that produced the bill and the dizzying speed on which it was voted.

"This chamber exercising its deliberative powers could have crafted a good minimum wage bill. What did we do instead? We went from a back room deal on Sunday to a vote to a floor of this chamber on Thursday," said Assembly Member David Hadley, R-Torrance.

Political science professor Fernando Guerra at Loyola Marymount University does not buy the argument that the bill was pushed through quickly. "Anytime someone is opposed to any type of public policy, they call it a back room deal. But certainly, the narrative has been very public about minimum wage."

"It sounds wonderful - $15 an hour. And all will prosper and be better off. I will argue this is a empiric and illusive promise. The individual who will now have this $15 may be better off, but for a short period of time because that job may quickly and likely in many cases be eliminated," said Senator Jim Nielsen, R-Roseville.

Many business owners warn the increase will lead to layoffs, more part-time instead of full-time jobs and higher prices, especially in restaurants and other places that hire mostly low-wage workers.

About 2.2 million Californians now earn minimum wage. The UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, projected the increase would have a ripple effect for those whose wages would increase to keep pace.

The researchers project it would increase pay for 5.6 million Californians by an average of 24 percent. More than a third of the affected workers are parents. Latinos would benefit most because they hold a disproportionate number of low-wage jobs, the researchers said.

The right-leaning American Action Forum projected that the pay hikes could cost nearly 700,000 jobs

The increases are projected to eventually cost California taxpayers an additional $3.6 billion annually for higher government employee pay.

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