Washington’s state House voted Tuesday to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour, to be phased in over four years. The bill goes next to the Senate.

Share story

OLYMPIA — The Washington state House voted along party lines Tuesday to raise the state’s minimum wage — already the nation’s highest — to $12 an hour over the next four years.

The 51-46 vote sends to the Senate the bill to add a series of 50-cent increases to the $9.47 state hourly minimum wage. The bill drew extended debate in the Democrat-controlled House before the vote, with Democrats rejecting a series of Republican amendments before voting to approve the bill.

The bill moves next to the Senate for consideration, where a companion bill did not get a committee hearing this legislative session. A coalition of mostly Republicans controls the Senate, and several have spoken critically of the effects a minimum-wage increase would have on the state.

Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, sponsored the House bill and said most workers who earn minimum wage now are adults and have a difficult time trying to stretch their pay to cover the expenses of maintaining a household. “If you work a hard day’s work, day in and day out, week after week, you should be able to pay your own way,” Farrell said.

Most Read Local Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

She and other Democrats said a minimum-wage increase would boost the state’s economy by giving low-income workers more money to spend in their communities.

“This really is about strengthening the middle class,” said Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, the House majority leader. “It’s about making our communities stronger.”

Republicans countered that House Bill 1355 would cut profits and lead to higher prices and fewer jobs. Some businesses could be forced out of state or into closure by the increased cost of hiring Washington workers, several Republican critics of the bill said.

Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, and the assistant minority floor leader, gave an impassioned criticism of the bill as failing to recognize basic economic principles. If it costs more to pay workers, he said, companies will hire fewer workers.

“How can we craft laws if some goods and services are subject to the law of demand and others are not?” he said. “Or is it, Mr. Speaker, that labor stands alone as the only good on the planet that is absolutely inelastic, because that’s what I’ve heard today?”

Under Washington’s current law, the minimum wage goes up every January with inflation. The Employment Security Department said this year’s minimum-wage increase affected more than 67,000 workers.

Sick leave

In other action Tuesday, the House passed a bill requiring many of the state’s employers to offer employees paid sick leave.

The bill passed in a 51-46 party-line vote Tuesday after a short debate. It would require all businesses in the state with more than four full-time employees to give workers at least five days a year of sick and safe leave. The leave time could be used if a worker is ill, needs to care for a sick family member, or to deal with dangerous conditions at home or work.

Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, who sponsored the bill, said more than a million workers in Washington currently do not have any paid sick leave at their jobs.

The bill next moves to the Senate for consideration.