Topeka — The state’s minimum wage would increase for the first time in two decades under a bill passed Thursday by the Senate.
The 33-7 vote sends the measure to the House, although senators had differing opinions about the value of the legislation.
The current state minimum wage is $2.65 an hour. The bill says that on Jan. 1, 2010, it would go to $7.25, which will be the federal minimum as of July 24.
The Kansas Department of Labor estimates about 20,000 people in the state earn less than the federal minimum wage, currently $6.55 per hour.
The bill would apply to businesses that have less than $500,000 in annual revenues and don’t engage in interstate commerce, including accepting credit cards.
Sen. Dick Kelsey, who handled the bill, said Kansas has been criticized for having the lowest minimum wage of any state — although he noted that some states have no minimum wage.
“There’s no employer around who isn’t under the federal minimum wage law,” said the Goddard Republican. “We keep getting criticized for something that’s irrelevant.”
But Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said there’s good reason to update the wage for the first time since the late 1980s.
“If we repeal the state minimum wage, then 20,000 workers won’t be protected by a base rate of even $2.65,” said the Topeka Democrat. “It’s a win for the people.”
Hensley said the state minimum wage first was enacted in 1978 at $1.60 and was raised just once, to $2.65 an hour in 1988.
Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said, “I am pleased that we are taking this significant step that is long overdue.”