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The Law Lives On

A bill preventing a living-wage ordinance is dead.

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A bill that would have overturned the city's prevailing wage laws and prevented a future living-wage ordinance is no longer a concern for the Memphis Living Wage Coalition.

House Bill 421, designed to prevent individual cities in Tennessee from mandating wage rates, died for lack of a second vote in a House of Representatives committee meeting on April 20th. A similar bill had already passed through the Senate in 2003.

"This clears the path for the City Council to go ahead and adopt a living-wage ordinance, which is what the majority have said they want to do," said Rebekah Jordan of the Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice. "Some of the council members were hesitant to pass a law before because they thought the state might strike it down."

A living-wage ordinance would require companies that receive tax subsidies and city service contracts to pay employees at least $10 an hour with health insurance or $12 an hour without. Currently, the city only has a prevailing wage ordinance, which requires certain wage rates for employees of companies that receive construction contracts with the city. House Bill 421 would have overturned that ordinance as well.

Jordan said the coalition is working on a draft of the living-wage ordinance to present to the City Council by late summer. At a recent public hearing for the living wage, councilwoman Carol Chumney said she had concerns about how the draft would be worded.

"We don't want it to hurt small business, and we want to retain regional competitiveness," said Chumney. "We need to see what's working in other places [that have living-wage ordinances]."

According to Jordan, nine out of 13 council members completed a survey indicating that they were in support of such an ordinance.

E-mail: bphillips@memphisflyer.com

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