Several state senators think a $13 an hour minimum wage by 2024 doesn’t go far enough to help residents cope with Hawaii’s high cost of living.

House Bill 2541, which would raise the minimum wage and also comes with a tax relief package, cleared the Senate Labor Committee Thursday with Sens. Stanley Chang, Les Ihara and Mike Gabbard all voting in favor “with reservations,” which is basically a reluctant yes vote.

Sen. Brian Taniguchi, who chairs the committee, cast the lone “yes” vote, though he did so through gritted teeth.

State Capitol Building.
A bill to raise the minimum wage cleared its first committee in the Senate on Thursday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The vote came after over an hour of testimony tipped largely in favor of a coalition of non-profit organizations, workers unions and business groups that have all advocated for raising the minimum wage to at least $15 or $17 an hour.

The $13 an hour figure is supported by various industry associations, like the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, who in the past have opposed any minimum wage increase.

“We felt like we had to be part of this collective effort,” Sherry Menor-McNamara, the chamber president, told lawmakers.

However, David Takagi, of the firm Takagi & Takagi, thinks the wages should be higher.

“Businesses shouldn’t have the attitude of paying workers the least,” he told the committee.

The $13 an hour figure was also too low for some of the senators on the committee.

“We’ve heard passionate and emotional testimony today from workers who work full time but live in poverty,” Chang said shortly before the vote. “I’m not confident that this level of minimum wage increase will address those concerns.”

Ihara and Gabbard noted similar sentiments.

The committee made no changes to the bill, voting instead to advance the same version that already cleared the House.

HB 2541 still needs to clear a vote by the Senate Ways and Means Committee before going before the full Senate for a vote.

It needs to clear a final vote in both chambers before session ends May 7.

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