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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Oregon Senate Approves Minimum Wage Increase

Chris Phan
Flickr -

A plan to hike Oregon's minimum wage is moving forward in the state legislature. The state Senate Thursday approved a measure that would increase the wage to as much as $14.75 per hour over the next six years.

The vote came after more than six hours of debate.

The measure sets up three different minimum wages: One for the Portland metro area, a lower one for mid-size communities, and the lowest for rural parts of the state. Democratic Senator Diane Rosenbaum called it the most important bill that lawmakers would vote on this session.

"And I'll guarantee you it's the most important vote we’re going to cast to the hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who need the real help in their lives that this bill would provide,” she said.

Republicans tried in vain to delay a vote. Senator Jeff Kruse voiced the objection of many GOP lawmakers.

"I guess we don't care whether businesses survive in this state,” Kruse said. “Because this is a business-killing measure."

The bill now heads to the Oregon House.

It comes as two groups continue to collect signatures for initiatives that would raise the minimum wage. The measures would be on the November ballot and would raise the minimum wage statewide to as much as $15 per hour in as little as three years.

Lawmakers and Oregon Governor Kate Brown say the slower timeline in the bill before the legislature will soften the impact to business. They hope that legislative action will convince the two groups to suspend their initiative campaigns.

The governor proposed a two-tier minimum wage plan shortly before lawmakers convened this month. The bill moving through the legislature differs from the governor's plan, but the Democrat told reporters today that she'll back the legislative proposal.

“I think it's important that we act now to support working families throughout the state,” Brown said. “I'm pleased to see a bill moving forward.”