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Living wage bill up for debate

Published On: Feb 13 2014 07:07:13 AM CST
Updated On: Feb 13 2014 07:14:04 AM CST

A proposal to keep local counties from adopting a living wage ordinance in Wisconsin is not sitting well with care workers who benefit from the move. Dannika Lewis reports.

MADISON, Wis. -

For a single mom supporting a son on her own, Angela Smith said without living wage, she couldn’t keep caring for others.

“Anything less than that is often impossible,” Smith said.

Smith is a part time home support worker who cares for two developmentally disabled men.  The company she works for is contracted out by Dane County.

Smith said she has some concern after hearing about Assembly Bill 750 on Wednesday, the same day it went to hearing.

“I think they may just not realize how difficult it is, and how hard it is to live on anything less,” Smith said.

Republican Rep. Chris Kapenga introduced the bill Tuesday.  If passed, AB750 would prevent municipalities from using any money going through the state treasury to pay for living wage requirements.  As it stands, cities and counties can pass a living wage ordinance to apply to its contracted workers.

Madison and Dane County have both had such ordinances for about 15 years.  Dane County sets a living wage at $11.33.

Kapenga said this does not eliminate a municipality’s ability to adopt a living wage ordinance, but with this bill, any money used to pay those contracted workers that wage would have to come from taxpayer money.

“This bill fully supports local control, as long as it is paid for by the locals,” Kapenga explained at Wednesday’s hearing, “but once you start taking other people's money to pay for it, those people should have a say in how it's spent.”

According to Dane County executive Joe Parisi’s office, 65 of the county’s 150 human services contracts would be affected by AB750 if it were signed into law.  Parisi said caregivers, like Smith, would be among those most impacted by the new rules.

“How do the people who take care of our most vulnerable survive if this bill passes?  How do they pay for bills?  How do they put food on their own table?” Parisi asked at a press conference Wednesday.

Other opponents, like Madison alder Lisa Subeck, had concern about how quickly the legislative process seems to be going with this bill.

“We have thrived largely in part due to our ability to set standards for our city, standards like the living wage ordinance, and to be able to do that at a local level, to make sure we are meeting the needs of our community,” Subeck said.

According to the Associated Press, Governor Scott Walker said AB750 was not part of his agenda, and he does not know whether or not he would sign the bill if it were to pass.

Smith said this would make people in her line of work more vulnerable than they are now.

“Myself and others that are in these jobs have to feel valued because it is an absolutely valuable service to the community,” Smith said.  “And if we're not paid a living wage, that's not valuing people like myself and those who do these kinds of caregiving jobs.”

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