RI House sends minimum wage increase to governor

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island's lowest earners could be looking at their first raise in five years under legislation now on its way to Gov. Lincoln Chafee.

The state House of Representatives voted 60-to-8 Monday to raise the state's minimum wage from $7.40 to $7.75 an hour. The Senate approved the measure last week.

"The smallest increase will help," said Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence, chairwoman of the House Labor Committee. "Young people in my district have to go out and work to support their families. It's past due. If not now, when?"

Since Rhode Island last raised the wage five years ago, Massachusetts has upped its minimum wage to $8 and Connecticut has gone to $8.25. State labor numbers indicate that about 10,000 people make the minimum wage.

Rhode Island food retailers have said a higher minimum wage will lead to an increase in food prices.

Some Republican lawmakers argued Monday that the minimum wage boost would backfire if struggling small business owners delay hiring decisions because they can't afford a new worker.

"People who do not have a job are going to find it that much more difficult," said House Minority Leader Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield. "Don't think that this is just some feel-good legislation."

The increase, if approved, would go into effect at the beginning of 2013. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

Chafee, an independent, hasn't said if he supports the increase.