Quick Hit Micah Maidenberg Friday February 11th, 2011, 3:07pm

An Ambitious Minimum Wage Bill For The New General Assembly

Legislation that State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) introduced into the General Assembly earlier this week seeks to staunch the historical erosion of the minimum wage. The bill would raise the state's minimum wage of $8.25 per hour by 50 cents plus a cost of living adjustment until the wage's purchasing power was equivalent to what $1.60 bought in 1968. That would boost the state minimum wage to $10.03 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator (try it out here). The wage would then be adjusted annually based on the previous year's Consumer Price Index.

This is an ambitious bill. Among other measures, it provides relief for domestic and agricultural workers, two groups that have historically been excluded from important workplace protections, by requiring that employees "in domestic service in or about a private home" get at least the state minimum wage. The bill would also allow farm workers to collect time-and-a-half when they work more than 40 hours a week. Lightford, who could not be reached, wants to remove language in state law that lets companies pay employees ages 18 and up 50 cents less than the minimum wage for up to 90 days after they have been hired too. The bill also would let employees who sue their employers for violating minimum wage rules collect interest on the total amount of underpayment and damages equal to double that number.

Business groups have already come out in opposition to the proposal, which has four co-sponsors so far. Should it make it through the legislature and find the governor's signature, the bill would give a boost to the state's poorest workers, as the Sun-Times noted today. This is a salient point. As Progress Illinois has reported before, the state's flat income tax structure means that wealthy residents of the Land of Lincoln pay the state a far smaller proportion of their income than low- (and middle-income) earners. And that disparity was not solved by last month's tax deal. Lightford's bill is one well worth tracking as the 97th General Assembly starts to gear up. 

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