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Nevada no-health wage surcharge faces attack

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CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A Nevada state senator is trying for the second session in a row to repeal a health insurance-related minimum wage requirement that’s part of the state’s constitution.

Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, presented SJR 2 to members of the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections Thursday. It is the same resolution Hardy sponsored last session that never made it out of committee.

This year, however, is different because of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s imminent start next year, Hardy said.

“There’s a new upside-down economic landscape and opinions change,” Hardy told committee members. “Now that it’s not a sword hanging over their head, we ought to let them vote again.”

The resolution would repeal a constitutional provision that requires employers that don’t provide health insurance to pay $1 more than the federal minimum wage. Voters adopted the increased wage law by wide margins in 2004 and 2006.

Under the PPACA “play or pay” “shared responsibility” provisions, employers with more than 50 full-time employees that fail to provide health insurance will be required to pay a $2,000 fine per employee, after the first 30 workers. For example, if a company had 51 employees, the fine would be equal to $2,000 multiplied by 21.

The proposed resolution would “allow the health insurance we are now covered by to take effect and prevent employers from a double penalty,” Hardy said.

The process for changing the state constitution is lengthy. The resolution would have to pass this session and again in 2015 before going to a vote of the people in 2016. Because of the process, Hardy said passing the resolution now would position the legislature to make an informed decision next session based on what happens between now and then as PPACA is implemented.

“This vote now puts us in a position to do something then,” Hardy said. “It does not put our course in concrete, because one legislature cannot bind another vote.”

Representatives from the restaurant and retail industries and two chambers of commerce echoed support for the resolution.

“This resolution is a job-saving resolution,” said George Ross with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. “We don’t need an incentive anymore to provide health care.”

He added that keeping the high minimum wage would prove to be a deterrent to employers to hire employers.

Opponents said the resolution might be akin to the straw that broke the camel’s back for minimum wage earners.

“Most of these minimum wage earners have two to four jobs, and every penny they make goes right back into the economy,” said Patrick Sanderson, a lobbyist who spent his career as a construction worker with multiple jobs. “These are the people trying to live as a human being on minimum wage and you can’t do it. To lower this wage would be a disgrace.”

Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas and chairman of the committee, said she was undecided on the issue, but acknowledged both sides have merit. She said the multi-session process would not be any more of a factor than other considerations.


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