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Bill for $18 minimum wage quickly passes state Senate

LIHUE — The Hawai‘i State Senate has passed a bill incrementally increasing the minimum wage to $18 by 2026, passing the bill to the state House of Representatives next.

After unanimously clearing the Ways and Means Committee and the Labor, Culture and the Arts Committee earlier this week, the measure passed the full Senate by a convincing margin of 24 to 1.

Introduced by Senator Brian Taniguchi and co-sponsored by nineteen Senate members, SB 2018 would raise the minimum wage to $12 on Oct. 1 of this year, then $15 in 2024, and finally to $18 in 2026.

“I am delighted that we were able to swiftly deliver this important policy action for the working people of Hawai‘i,” said Senate President Ron Kouchi. “I want to thank Senate Labor Committee Chair Brian Taniguchi for his work in shepherding this bill and I hope our House colleagues will follow suit and pass this critical piece of legislation.”

The bill was introduced to the state Legislature Jan. 19, and quickly passed the two Senate committee hearings along with three readings in the full Senate.

The bill received significant public testimony, with 93 in support and 22 opposed.

The bill would make Hawai‘i’s minimum wage the highest in the nation, almost matching Kaua‘i’s self-sufficiency wage — the amount required to cover basic housing, food, transportation, and other costs — of $19.62, according to a state report.

John Witeck of the Hawai‘i Workers Center, which organizes and informs non-union workers, heralded the passage of the bill, but advocated for changes in his submitted testimony to the Labor, Culture and the Arts Committee.

“It’s very hard for a lot of families, especially non-union low-wage people,” said Witeck, who advocated for a $25 minimum wage that would increase yearly based on inflation. “Smaller and more protracted incremental hikes in the minimum wage will not address the crisis workers and their families are facing now in trying to make ends meet.”

He cited Aloha United Way’s ALICE: A Study of Financial Hardship In Hawai‘i, which places the required minimum wage for a survival budget at $25.49.

He also advocated for removing the tip credit, ensuring that the rising minimum wage does not affect other forms of government assistance, instituting paid sick leave, and reducing wage theft.

“There needs to be a comprehensive remedy for the system,” said Witeck.

“This issue has been talked — and stalled — to death,” said Kapa’a resident Dan Freund in his submitted testimony. “It’s time to give the working poor a raise now and to amend the current bill to ensure working folks never again fall behind on being able to afford the basics and to protect tip workers from exploitation.”

The Hawai‘i Restaurant Association, which represents 3,400 restaurants in the state, advocated for a slower increase to $15/hour in 2027.

“Three dollar incremental jumps are just not sustainable to our local restaurants, consumer acceptance, and a manageable menu price inflation,” reads a testimony from Victor Lim, the HRA’s Legislative Lead, who argued that the increase would be difficult for restaurants were struggling from the economic impact of COVID-19.

SB2018 now heads to the State House of Representatives for consideration.

Kouchi reported that a similar bill had been moved to the house last year, but that it never received a committee meeting.

This year though, House Speaker Scott Saiki has expressed his support for $18 wage, leading Kouchi to believe that the bill will be more successful.
Source: The Garden Island

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