Legislative update, week 18: Minimum wage; gay marriage

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The Minnesota House last week voted 68-62 to hike the state minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015, as well as provide for automatic increases in the future. Now it's up to the Senate, which is likely to vote Wednesday on a smaller hike – to $7.75 an hour.

It's one of a number of a loose ends the Legislature is likely to tie up as lawmakers seek to wrap up the session this month. The deadline for adjournment is May 20.

The state minimum wage in Minnesota is $6.15 an hour, although most most employers must pay the federal minimum of $7.25. (Congress is mulling a federal minimum wage hike; President Obama has asked for a $9 level.)

As many as 350,000 low-wage workers would benefit from his bill, Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said.

Republicans say the House hike would kill jobs. "The increase is too fast, too much, too soon on the heels of a very bad recession," said Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, said, the Pioneer Press reported.

In other action this week, the House Ways and Means Committee has scheduled a hearing for Monday to examine the cost to the state of legalizing same-sex marriage.

MPR reports that Minnesota Management and Budget officials predict that legalizing gay marriage would result in 114 more people enrolling for state benefits for married partners, which would create an additional benefits cost to the state of $688,378 a year.

Votes in the full House and Senate on the bill that would legalize same-sex marriage are expected before the end of the session.

Last week

Here's a glimpse at some of the other recent action in the Legislature.

Tax bill

Legislative observers called it a wild day in the DFL-controlled Senate last Monday when senators narrowly defeated a tax bill that Democratic leaders had been pushing. The leaders then quickly corralled DFL senators behind closed doors, and then held another vote a short time later. Two DFLers switched their votes, and the measure passed. The legislation would lower Minnesota’s sales tax, but it would raise revenue by extending that tax to many currently exempt services and items. The bill also contains a controversial provision that would tax clothing that costs more than $100. THe House approved a tax bill that does not change the sales tax, so a House-Senate conference committee of negotiators will have to work out the differences.

Medical marijuana

Supporters of legalizing marijuana for medical use put the issue in play at the Capitol last week, even though lawmakers won't be considering it until next year. Activists say they have bipartisan lawmaker support for the measure, but among the proposal's obstacles is long-standing opposition by Gov. Mark Dayton and police groups. Supporters say a poll in March showed 65 percent of Minnesotans approve of medical marijuana use for seriously ill patients if their doctors recommend it.

Gun bills

House and Senate DFL leaders last week said the full chambers would not vote on legislation aimed at gun control this session. The issue deeply divides lawmakers. Opposing factions of the DFL have been unable to agree on legislation, particularly on whether to make criminal background checks mandatory for all gun purchases.

Liquor stores

There won't be anyone making Sunday beer runs in Minnesota. The House overwhelmingly defeated a proposal last week that would have allowed for Sunday sales at liquor stores. That preserves a Sunday sales ban that dates to 1895.

Dream Act

Minnesota senators on Wednesday approved a bill that would extend in-state public college tuition rates to children of people who are in the country illegally. The measure has been under consideration for years, but it stands a better chance of passage given that Democrats control both the House and Senate, observers say.

Budget lull

Minnesota lawmakers hit a bit of a waiting phase last week in the debate over a new two-year state budget, the Pioneer Press reported. The House and Senate have approved several budget bills, but they have to iron out the differing versions before they ship a final agreement to Gov. Mark Dayton.

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