By Don Thompson
The Associated Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California's minimum wage would rise to $10 an hour within three years under a bill passed Thursday by the state Legislature, making it one of the highest rates in the nation.
Washington state currently has the top minimum wage at $9.19 an hour, an amount that is pegged to rise with inflation. Some cities, including San Francisco, have slightly higher minimum wages.
The state Senate approved AB10 on a 26-11 vote and the Assembly followed hours later on a 51-25 vote, both largely along party lines. Gov. Jerry Brown indicated earlier this week that he would sign the bill, calling it an overdue piece of legislation that would help working-class families.
The bill would gradually raise California's minimum wage from the current $8 an hour to $10 by 2016.
It would be the first increase in the state's minimum wage in six years and comes amid a national debate over whether it is fair to pay fast-food workers, retail clerks and others wages so low that they often have to work second or third jobs.
Democrats said the bill by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, would help workers left behind during the recent recession.
"It simply gives hardworking Californians the dignity and respect to provide for their families with their own hard-earned wages," Alejo said in arguing for the bill before his Assembly colleagues.
Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, said raising the minimum wage will stimulate the economy by giving lower-wage workers more money to spend.
"They're not going to put it into a hedge fund," he said.
But Republican lawmakers said it would do the opposite, encouraging businesses to cut jobs and automate.
"This is a classic example with how out-of-touch state leaders are," said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber.