In an unexpected move, the state Senate raised and then tabled debate on a bill that calls for an increase in the state’s minimum wage from its current $9.60 an hour to $12 an hour by Jan. 1, 2020.
The bill, which originally would have fined large companies for not paying their employees $15 an hour, was amended to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour by Jan. 1, 2020.
However, before debate on the Senate bill ended Thursday, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said he was unaware the Senate would be raising the measure this year.
“It came as a surprise to me that this was something that was going to be brought up in the Senate,” Sharkey said around 9 p.m. Thursday. That was about four hours after the debate on the bill began in the Senate.
“I only learned of it essentially when the bill was called,” Sharkey said. “It’s coming as a surprise to me.” He said he doesn’t necessarily oppose it, but it’s a major policy initiative “that deserves some conversation at least between House and Senate.”
Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Trumbull, who raised the bill and took a minimum wage job last summer for the experience, said she could have never lived off $9.60 an hour if she had to support a family.
Moore said she thought the annual raises the bill called for were “fair” for both workers and their employers.
She also said the majority of job growth the state of Connecticut has experienced the past few years “have been low wage workers” who require a higher income to cover the bare necessities of day-to-day life.
The bill called for the minimum wage, which is already slated to increase under current law to $10.10 per hour on Jan. 1, 2017, to increase to $10.70 an hour on Jan. 1, 2018, $11.30 an hour on Jan. 1, 2019, and finally to $12 an hour on Jan. 1, 2020.
Two years ago Connecticut was the first state in the nation to pass a law setting the minimum wage at $10.10 an hour. Passage of the legislation came after a visit from President Barack Obama.
The law increased Connecticut’s $8.70-an-hour minimum wage in 2014 to $9.15 on January 1, 2015; $9.60 on January 1, 2016; and finally to $10.10 on January 1, 2017.
It was approved on a mostly party line vote with one Democrat in the Senate and four in the House in voting against the measure. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was lukewarm about increasing the minimum wage in 2012, embraced it as part of his re-election campaign in 2014.
Republican Senators were ready to talk about the bill for hours before it was pulled.
Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, said “government does more harm than good” when it interjects itself into business matters.
“The free market system is the best system” to handle minimum wage issues,’’ Kane said.
His view was backed by the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, which released a statement against the plans for a minimum wage hike.
“This effort is well-intentioned, but dead wrong,” Suzanne Bates, policy director for the Yankee Institute, said in an emailed statement. “It won’t help people earning less than $12 per hour. Instead, prices will rise and jobs will become more scarce, especially for the people who currently earn an hourly wage close to the current minimum.”
Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, said the state needs to let the free market prevail when it comes to setting wages. He said lawmakers didn’t have enough information to make such a decision that could lead to job losses.
Jack Kramer contributed to this report.