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California moves toward an $11 minimum wage

The state Senate on Monday passed a bill that would raise California's $9 minimum wage to $11 an hour on Jan. 1 and boost it again to $13 in 2017.

Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) made the proposal out of concern that census figures show a quarter of the state's 38 million residents live in poverty, he said.

"It is time that we make it illegal to pay sub-poverty wages in California," Leno told his colleagues during a heated floor debate.

He said the wage increase would boost the economy because working families would be able to spend more money. "It's going to be spent immediately to meet daily needs in our community," he said.

The bill passed 23 to 15, on a largely party-line vote.

Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Murrieta) opposed the measure, predicting it would force businesses to cut workers. The proposal "hurts the economy by causing job losses," he said.

Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto) said minimum wage was never meant to be a wage for families to live on. "It is a start-up wage for kids," he said.

Sen. Connie Lleyva (D-Chino) countered, "There are people trying to support their families living on minimum wage, and it simply doesn't work."

An employee working full time and earning $9 per hour takes home about $18,000 annually before taxes, Leno noted — 75% of the federal poverty level for a family of four.

Two years ago, lawmakers and the governor increased the minimum wage to $10, to begin Jan. 1 of next year. Leno's bill would impose specific raises until 2019 and adjust for inflation thereafter.

Some California cities have raised minimum wages on their own. In Los Angeles, the City Council is set to vote this week on raising the minimum wage to $10.50 on July 1, 2016, and then increasing it gradually to $15 in 2020. San Francisco is phasing in an increase that tops out at $15 in 2018.

Leno's bill, SB 3, now goes to the Assembly.

Also Monday, faced with criticism over free trips to Hawaii and other locales by state lawmakers, the Senate approved a measure that would force disclosure of who picks up the tabs.

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