BOSTON (AP)- The Massachusetts House approved a bill Wednesday that would increase the state's hourly minimum wage from $8 to $10.50 over the next two years.
The legislation, which passed on a 123-24 vote, would also overhaul the state's unemployment insurance system and provide basic work standards and protections for nannies and other domestic workers in the state.
The vote was along party lines with most Democrats supporting the bill and most Republicans opposed.
The Massachusetts Senate has already approved separate minimum wage and unemployment insurance bills. The Senate bill would increase the wage to $11 per hour over three years and link automatic future increases to the rate of inflation. The House bill doesn't link the minimum wage to changes in inflation.
The push to raise the minimum wage in Massachusetts comes as President Barack Obama calls for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
The House bill now heads to the Senate. Both chambers will need to agree on a compromise version before sending it to Gov. Deval Patrick, who has said he supports increasing the minimum wage.
House Labor Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Conroy said raising the minimum wage in Massachusetts is long overdue. He also said the higher wage won't make anyone wealthy.
"At its core, a minimum wage bill is about fairness. It is about giving voice to those who for too long have not been heard," the Wayland Democrat said, adding "this is a minimum wage, not a living wage."
Both bills also would raise the minimum wage for workers who earn tips. The House bill would increase the minimum tipped wage from $2.63 per hour to $3.75 over three years. The Senate bill is more aggressive, increasing the minimum wage for tipped workers to half of the minimum wage for other workers - or up to $5.50 per hour over three years.
Also possibly appearing on the November ballot is a question that would increase the minimum wage to $10.50 over two years and index future increases to inflation. The question is backed by labor groups.
Massachusetts last increased the minimum wage in 2008.
The House bill includes a requirement that the state minimum wage must always be at least 40 cents higher that the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 per hour. Current law requires the state minimum wage always be at least 10 cents higher than the federal wage.
The Senate bill would require the state wage always be at least 50 cents higher than the federal minimum.
The House bill would also increase the minimum wage for farm workers to $8 an hour from the current rate of $1.60 an hour.
During debate, the House adopted an amendment that would let cities and towns hire student lifeguards at the current minimum wage since municipal budgets are being set now. The new higher wage would kick in after Oct. 1.
Conroy said another key element of the House bill was increased protection for domestic workers. Those include defining what constitutes working time for domestic workers, requiring that any deductions taken for meals or lodging provided to a domestic worker be in compliance with state law, and allowing domestic workers to file complaints with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination if they are harassed or abused. The bill would give the attorney general the authority to investigate those claims.
"Too often we have heard that employers are taking advantage of these caregivers," Conroy said.
House lawmakers rejected a portion of the bill that would have required individuals who are corporate officers, partners or owners in a company to pay back any unemployment benefits they received after leaving and returning to work during the same year.
The House and Senate bills also would continue to freeze unemployment insurance rates at their current levels.
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