Here are 10 ways legislators want to change Maine’s voter-approved minimum wage law

Good morning from Augusta, where a debate that’s been brewing since November will erupt into a war of words over Maine’s new minimum wage law.

A long day of testimony is in store for the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee with 10 bills aimed at chipping away at or preserving the minimum wage law up for debate. Wrangling over the minimum wage is perennial at the State House, but this year brings a tricky balancing act for legislators, who in the larger picture are contemplating whether to make changes to a law enacted by the votes of 55.4 percent of Mainers in the November 2016 statewide referendum.

In case you’ve been in Antarctica or in a coma since then (welcome back!) here’s a refresher: The referendum increased Maine’s hourly minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 this year and will ramp it up to $12 by 2020. The minimum wage will continue to climb according to cost-of-living increases thereafter. The law also eliminated the tip credit for employers, which means tipped workers’ base salaries were also increased and will continue to climb with the idea that tips will be phased out.

There has been a lot of buzz preceding and following that vote but exactly what changes are on the table five months later? Here’s a rundown of the bills being introduced today:

This morning, three bills aimed at the tip credit will be presented. Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta and Rep. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn both have proposals to restore the tip credit and Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, is proposing a commission to study how the phase-out of the subminimum wage would affect tipped employees over the long term.

This afternoon, broader proposals are in store:

  • LD 774 would create a “training wage” for people younger than 20 years old that is $1 above the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 an hour. This bill comes from Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, who is an influential member of the Legislature’s budget committee.
  • Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington is proposing to limit Maine’s minimum wage to the New England average in LD 775. Currently, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont have minimum wages of $10 or more. Rhode Island’s is $9.60 and New Hampshire is at the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Harvell has a second bill, LD 778, that would eliminate future increases to Maine’s minimum wage based on inflation.
  • Sen. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, proposes restoring the tip credit for employers and setting Maine’s minimum wage at the New England average in LD 831.
  • In LD 971, Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred proposes exempting from minimum wage laws people younger than 18, are claimed as dependents by another income taxpayer or are employed seasonally.
  • Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, is proposing in LD 991 the establishment of a separate minimum wage for minors that is 75 percent of the amount for everyone else.
  • Rep. Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, proposes in LD 1005 to leave the minimum wage at its current rate but eliminate future codified increases and restore the tip credit.

As lawmaking-by-referendum becomes an annual event in Maine, the likelihood that the Legislature would make changes isn’t as egregious or uncommon as it once was. There are a bevy of alterations proposed for the four referendums from 2016. Since 1990, a total of 22 citizen initiatives have passed at the ballot box and of those, 14 were then amended by the Legislature.

Examples include the 1982 initiative to eliminate indexing of the income tax to the consumer price index and the 2004 decision by voters for state government to fund at least 55 percent of the cost of public schools, which has never been met.

This year could end up being a landmark year for citizen initiatives in Maine, but not because of the fight over the details of the minimum wage, education surtax or recreational marijuana bills. An ancillary and more impactful debate that is also raging is whether it should be harder for the citizens of Maine to enact laws on their own. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Maine ethics watchdog releases tentative list of lawmakers who may have had to file amended income disclosure forms in 2016. A March review by the Maine Ethics Commission found that dozens of state legislators may have violated income disclosure rules by not reporting new sources of income in 2016, with Executive Director Jonathan Wayne saying many were apparently “unaware” of the requirement to update annual forms within 30 days if legislators find a new source of $2,000 or more in income, accept a new job or get a loan of $3,000 or more. Reporters requested the list of lawmakers then. It was released by Wayne on Tuesday, now featuring 40 lawmakers after 19 others were determined to be in compliance. However, Wayne cautioned that the remaining lawmakers haven’t been formally found to be in noncompliance and may not have had to file an amended statement. For now, the commission is planning to use this to educate lawmakers and Wayne said it “does not intend to conduct any further investigation into this matter.” — Michael Shepherd
  • Tax cuts guru touches down in Maine. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, spoke Tuesday night in Falmouth at an event hosted by the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center. In an interview with Maine Public prior to the event, Norquist said a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and an associated tax cut at the federal level remain possible despite Republicans’ failure to garner enough support. “It’s more likely than not,” said Norquist, who noted that he has been talking with conservative congressional Republicans about another effort at repeal. “The best option is to back up, take a mulligan, move forward again. That appears to be what they’re doing.” The comments came as the Trump administration renewed efforts Tuesday to hold another vote before Congress’s spring break later this month. — Christopher Cousins
  • Democratic senator talks in colorful language about her and Susan Collins’ worldview. A New York magazine profile on U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, references the senator’s frequent partnership with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, with Gillibrand saying, “I know Susan’s worldview is similar to my worldview. Which is that we’re here to help people, and if we’re not helping people, we should go the f— home.” — Michael Shepherd

Today in A-town

Other than the minimum wage debate, the top highlight in Augusta today will be the public hearing on Katz’s second attempt to pass a “death with dignity” law, which would allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to dying patients if certain conditions are met.

If the bill passes, Maine would be the seventh state to legalize assisted suicide. Katz got a similar 2015 bill through the House of Representatives, but it failed in the Senate by one vote.

The bill was the subject of dueling news conferences at the State House on Tuesday, with Katz appearing alongside Eva Thompson of Camden, who has terminal colon cancer, while Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, spoke against the bill alongside Stephanie Packer, a California activist who has lived longer than expected after being told she had a terminal disease affecting her lungs.

Katz’s bill and a similar one from Rep. Jennifer Parker, D-South Berwick, will be before  the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee at 9:30 a.m.

Also on the schedule today:

The rest of the committee schedule is here. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

It was ‘Hug a Newsperson Day.’ We got no hugs

We were hoping we wouldn’t have to tell you that Tuesday was National Hug a Newsperson Day. Doing so would have been like telling everyone “today is my birthday,” forcing everyone to awkwardly and begrudgingly say, “happy birthday.”

That strategy backfired. No one at the State House hugged the Daily Brief team and we were there ALL DAY.

On Twitter, NECN television reporter Danielle Waugh said she values her personal space and pleaded with everyone to not hug her. I offered to intercept any hugs meant for her, but still there was nothing.

Don’t think this means you can approach us today with arms open. You’ve missed your window. Just like it’s not really cool to give a birthday gift late, hugging us today would just come across as feeble. Besides, we’re feeling a little grumpy, left out and not in the mood for hugging.

Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.