Bill would lower minimum wage in Nebraska for minors

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) — In November 2022, Nebraskans voted to gradually increase the state minimum wage over the next few years. As of January 2023, it increased from $9 to $10.50 per hour.

On Monday, the Economic and Labor Committee in the state capital heard testimony about LB 15, a bill that would lower the minimum wage for minors.

Senator Tom Briese, who introduced LB 15, said it aims to do two things. The first sets the minimum wage for 14- to 17-year-olds at $9 an hour for now, with incremental increases to $10 by 2026. The second is a new minimum wage for apprenticeships for workers aged 18-20 to set .

Speaking at a public hearing on Monday, Briese said LB 15 would help offset the financial hit to small businesses after the minimum wage had to be raised this year.

“We must do what we can to ensure the economic viability of our small businesses, including our grocers, our restaurants, across Nebraska’s main street,” Briese said. “We cannot allow laws like what was on the ballot to put corner shops out of business.”

Briese said the bill would also increase trainee wages for employees between the ages of 18 and 20. These would instead go from 75% of the federal minimum wage to $9.25 an hour. That would be the new rate this year and would increase by $0.25 each year through 2026.

Supporters of the bill said small businesses are struggling because of the minimum wage hike this year. They said it has become more difficult to hire young workers because it costs so much to pay them. Proponents also argue that teenage employees often have entry-level jobs and pay levels should reflect this.

“Historically there were times when teenagers were paid less than other workers, and there are times in industries and companies when a newcomer earns a different wage than an experienced worker,” said Bud Synhorst of LIBA.

Opponents of the bill disagree. Those who testified Monday cited living expenses, gas and other necessities for teenagers who want to work full-time or part-time when they are young. Opponents also said what voters passed in November did not exempt anyone from the new age-based wage rates.

“The question of whether young workers should be paid differently was before the voters and the voters made no distinction,” said the ACLU’s Spike Eickhold.

No action was taken on LB 15 as of Monday night and there is still no timeline as to when or if it might be voted out of committee for full unicameral debate.

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