SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would set a minimum wage in Utah of $10.25 and increase it annually to $15 in 2023 was held Tuesday by the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee.
The sponsor of HB147, Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake, said the people who would benefit from an increase in the current $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage would use the additional money for basic needs.
"They are going to invest in rent, they're going to invest it food, they're going to invest it in kids, they're going to invest it in education," he said, adding he feels that "someone who works full time in Utah deserves to make a living wage."
After discussing the issue for nearly an hour, the committee voted unanimously to hold the bill with the intent that the minimum wage in Utah be studied during the legislative interim.
Jean Hill, government liaison for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, testified the increase would allow people to "live a life with dignity. She said "there does come a point where government does need to step in to ensure minimal needs are met."
Christy Clay, a biology professor at Westminster College, became emotional as she described for the committee her sister-in-law's struggle to make ends meet as a single mother working for $8 an hour as a nursing assistant at an elderly care facility.
"What is wrong with giving a person a living wage to do that kind of work," Clay said, calling it a moral decision. "She's not a dropout. She’s not a flunky. She’s a single mom raising kids. That’s who you’re talking about."
But the committee also heard from Jan Zogmaister, owner of National Battery Sales in Ogden, who said she hasn't hired at the minimum wage for years because "the free market system is driving up" wages.
"If you raise the lower rates, you have to raise all the rates. So that the cost to the business is not just in that first entry-level job in raising it, it is a ripple effect through the entire company," she said. "This is going to cost businesses a lot more."
Zogmaister said she has no guarantee of her company's sales or profits, but is paying her employees "all I can."
Rep. LaVarr Christensen, R-Draper, a committee member, brought up his concern that government cannot guarantee "every social outcome," saying he would legislate world peace and everlasting marriages if he could.
"There's no closed minds on this," Christensen said, suggesting the minimum wage could be raised for specific fields that are regulated and licensed by the state. He said people can also find a better-paying job.
"Then a business would wake up and say, 'I'm paying too little.' For the life of me, I can't imagine anyone," he said, with "the capacity who would ever knowingly pay so little and treat someone so heartlessly."
Hemingway, who has sponsored bills raising the minimum wage in four past sessions, said he appreciated that the issue may end up being discussed further over interim.
"We keep hearing year after year that things are getting better, that everything is going to be good," he said. "But we still have people making $7.25 an hour."