An attempt to raise the minimum wage in Tennessee by $1 an hour for workers who have not been offered health insurance was turned back Wednesday.
Legislation that could have raised hourly wages for thousands workers in the state failed on a 3-2 vote along party lines, with Democrats supporting the measure and Republicans voting it down.
Committee members spent only about five minutes debating the bill, which would have established a minimum wage in Tennessee but had little chance of passing. The measure's sponsor, state Rep. Mike Turner of Old Hickory, said he had hoped to convince at least one Republican member of the committee to sign on.
"That's why we play the game," said Turner, the House Democratic Caucus chairman. "Tennessee beat Vanderbilt every year for 20-something years, and then they beat them one year. So who knows?"
House Bill 1694 would have required employers to pay their workers at least $8.25 an hour starting July 1, unless they also offer them health insurance. The Affordable Care Act requires most businesses to provide health insurance for employees, but because those mandates have been delayed, the law would have no immediate impact on the bill, Turner told the subcommittee.
Tennessee is one of only five states without its own minimum wage law. Four states have minimum wages that are less than the federal standard of $7.25, while 20 others have set their minimum wages equal to federal requirement.
About 86,000 Tennesseans are paid the federal minimum wage or less, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but it is unclear exactly how many would have received a pay raise. Restaurant workers who receive much of their compensation in the form of tips would be exempted, as would those whose employers offer health care coverage.
On the other hand, workers who are paid less than a dollar more than $7.25 would see their wages increased.
No members of the committee spoke against the bill Wednesday, nor did any business groups, but Turner said that, contrary to the common argument against the minimum wage, there is little economic evidence to suggest raising it slightly causes unemployment. Turner added that states with higher minimum wages tend to have stronger economies and better educated workforces than Tennessee.
Tuesday's vote likely killed HB 1694 for the year, but it may not be the last minimum wage bill state lawmakers consider. Democrats may amend another measure to put the issue back before the legislature.
"If the people of Tennessee think that maybe we should have one and they call their representative, maybe we'll take another stab at it," said Turner.
Reach Chas Sisk at 615-259-8283 or on Twitter @chassisk.