Christine Stuart photo
Advocates present fake 5.1 million check to lawmakers. That’s the amount of money the fee would raise (Christine Stuart photo)

The Human Services Committee struggled Tuesday with a piece of legislation that would fine large employers who failed to pay their employees $15 an hour.

The committee eventually approved the bill 10-8 after about an hour of debate. Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, was the only Democratic lawmaker to vote against the bill. Other Democrats struggled with it.

The bill would fine companies up to $1 per hour for every employee not paid over $15 an hour.

Research the committee received last year determined that companies would pay the fine instead of boosting the pay of low-wage employees. Proponents of the bill argue that the state pays up to $486 million a year in Medicaid and other benefits, such as food stamps, to employees making less than $15 an hour.

The money collected from the fine — which could bring in as much as $305 million according to last year’s fiscal note — would go back into the general fund, presumably to help fund those subsidies.

“When is the time going to be right to pay people a decent wage?” Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Trumbull, said.

Moore said the legislation is about large companies with more than 500 employees, “paying their fair share.” She said she doesn’t believe businesses are going to flee the state because they’re paying a dollar more per employee.

She said she would like to see legislation to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but she doesn’t think that any such proposal would pass. She said progress is going to be “gradual.”

Rep. Jay Case,R-Winchester, said the legislation won’t help the workers who attended Tuesday’s hearing and are hoping for a pay increase to $15 an hour. The money will go into the general fund and it’s unclear what will happen to it after that because there’s no guarantee it will be used to offset the state’s share of these subsidies.

“If we want the $15 an hour to go to the people, then that’s what this bill should read,” Case said.

His Republican colleagues agreed.

“None of the people we want to help will be helped by this bill,” Rep. Cecilia Buck-Taylor, R-New Milford, said. “. . . It will not go in your pocket because it doesn’t make economic sense for those employers to give you $15 an hour.”

Moore said there is a bill in the Labor and Public Employees Committee that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“This bill is about the recoupment of wages,” Moore said. “To start to move people to that.”

She said if the bill to raise the minimum wage passes, then there would be no reason to push forward with the legislation being debated Tuesday.

At the moment, Republicans who were unanimous in their opposition to the bill, felt it was a tax on businesses in the state.

There were also questions raised about whether the owner of a fast food franchise, such as McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts, would end up paying most of the cost if it was passed along by the franchisor. Moore said the franchisor could pass it along, but there’s no intention to implement the fee on a franchisee.