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Georgia lawmakers push to increase state's minimum wage

The official minimum wage in Georgia is set at $5.15/hr

ATLANTA — A group of Georgia lawmakers is pushing to increase the state's minimum wage to $15/hr. Currently, the state's minimum wage is $5.15/hr. It's one of the lowest minimum wages in the nation, alongside Wyoming, while the federal minimum wage stands at $7.25/hr. and has remained at that level since 2009.

In Georgia, some students, farmers and certain small business employees not covered by the federal minimum wage may earn the state's minimum wage.

Ashley Buzzy recently moved her gift shop to Atlanta's Summerhill neighborhood, an area where redevelopment is leading to an increasing cost of living. She said she stays in business by paying a fair wage, noting each employee at her store makes at least $15/hr. and many make much more to afford to live in the Atlanta area. 

"We run a small team here at the shop, and I'm not interested in having a ton of turnover," Buzzy said. “There are a lot of people who work here who have very special skills, bring a lot to the team because of who they are. Obviously, people have to move on from retail jobs for different reasons, but I don't want that reason to be because of pay."

State Rep. Dewey McClain (D-Lawrenceville) filed a bill last week, HB 241, which calls for raising the state's minimum wage to $15/hr. That would equate to $31,200 per year before taxes.

"If you give people more money to spend, you give them $15 an hour, they’re not going to put it away in the stock market," McClain said. "They’re not going to the bank to open a 401k. They’re going to spend more money. We always talk about Georgia being the number one place to do business. We’re the number one place to do everything, but we don’t have the number one salary for people to work.”

McClain said his bill had a first reading Tuesday in committee. It's expected to get a second reading later this week before a decision to take it to the floor goes to the committee chairman. McClain said he's tried to bring a similar bill to the floor at least five times since becoming a lawmaker in 2013, but they have all been unsuccessful. 

Meanwhile, State Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Atlanta) filed another bill, HB 245, that would allow local governments to set their own minimum wage.

"I’ve introduced HB 245, which would take away a state preemption that keeps local governments from setting their own minimum wage within their jurisdictional boundaries," Evans said. “This is a local control issue. If the City of Atlanta wants to have a higher minimum wage within its boundaries, it should be able to do so just like any other city or county across our state.”

Several opposing Republican lawmakers declined to go on camera, but told 11Alive they believe businesses could end up raising prices to cover increased expenses or the businesses could go under should the minimum wage increase.

"Let’s see. Let’s give it a try," Evans said. "I think $5.15 is a miserably low minimum wage, and if a business owner can’t figure out how to pay its workers so they’re not having to rely on government assistance, then I think they need to take a look at how else they’re balancing their books. They don’t need to balance it on the backs of working people."

Evans added it's "beyond time" to raise the minimum wage.

"Working families across the state and country are hurting. You hear folks talking every day about inflation, inflation, inflation. Minimum wage has got to keep up with inflation," Evans said. 

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