Following hours of testy debate, the Kentucky House of Representatives pressed ahead with a minimum wage increase bill Thursday.
The issue was designated House Bill 1 at the start of the session, making it the top priority for House Democrats.
In an animated defense of the measure, House Speaker Greg Stumbo echoed President Obama’s call to raise the wage to $10.10 an hour, an increase of 95 cents a year for the next three years.
"I believe in a living wage. I believe that we can't raise America unless we raise all of America. I believe that the middle class has to be raised up. And you can start it here today," he told the chamber.
Republicans charged that the move would drive up costs for employers, act as a disincentive for young workers to excel, and press business owners to up wages for non-minimum wage workers as well.
"Increasing the minimum wage increases unemployment, not employment. It always has. Increasing minimum wage increases costs of small businesses and it violates those free market principles and it always has," Rep. Jonathan Shell argued.
Over 621,000 Kentuckians are paid less than $10.10 an hour according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The version of House Bill 1 that passed included one amendment allowing businesses making less than $500,000 in annual gross sales an exemption from the law. The original proposal set the cap at $190,000. If approved, the first phase of the wage increase would go into effect this July.
The bill now advances to the Senate.