Kansas’ minimum wage to change from $2.65 to $7.25 on Jan. 1

? The lowest state minimum wage in the country is about to become history.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Thursday signed into law a bill that on Jan. 1 will increase the Kansas state minimum wage of $2.65 per hour to the federal minimum wage, which will be $7.25 per hour.

Calling the increase long overdue, Sebelius added, “While the state minimum wage only applies to a small sector of Kansas’ work force, to them and their families, this legislation is critically important.

“Our economy must return to its core principle that an honest day’s work brings home an honest day’s pay, and today we’re taking a step in that direction.”

Democrats have long fought for an increase in the state minimum wage, but had been stymied by the Kansas Chamber and Republicans, who control the Legislature.

This year, however, several Republican legislators said they were tired of being criticized for the $2.65 per hour minimum and pushed, along with Democrats and fair-wage advocates, for the increase.

House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence said the increase was needed to help families and the economy.

“If we want to recover from these difficult times and help Kansans move themselves out of poverty, we must start by guaranteeing a wage that dignifies work,” Davis said.

State Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, was a sponsor of the bill calling for an increase.

Labor officials said about 19,000 Kansans were making below the federal minimum wage. Companies that have less than $500,000 a year in annual revenue and don’t engage in interstate commerce are exempt from the federal level.

The $2.65 per hour Kansas state minimum wage is the lowest of 45 states that have a state minimum and hasn’t been increased since 1988.