CHARLESTON - The West Virginia House of Delegates voted Wednesday to raise the state's minimum wage $1.50 over the next two years.
The standard would change from $7.25 to $8 an hour in January 2015 and to $8.75 the following January.
The bill also raises the training wage from $5.15 to $6.40 per hour.
The bill passed overwhelmingly with a dozen delegates speaking in favor of the raise. The bill now goes to the state Senate.
Boone County Democrat Joshua Barker recalled driving a snowplow for the Department of Highways for seven years. He said while he was making $7.40 per hour his family was forced to choose between necessities like bread and warm shoes. "I stand up for the highway workers who don't get a fair wage," he added.
Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, noted that minimum wage workers represent a diverse demographic. "We have to stop qualifying or classifying who minimum wage workers are based on age or education. People are on minimum wage and should be paid a fair wage," she said.
Jefferson County Democrat Tiffany Lawrence also spoke in favor of the bill. "The actual median age of a person earning minimum wage is 35 and 60 percent of them are women. These are women working to raise families, to raise children in this state. One in 10 children will be affected in a positive manner by raising wages," she said.
Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, added that he regrets it takes an act of legislation to make sure employers are paying their employees a fair wage. The bill will affect more than 100,000 West Virginians who are currently earning minimum wage, he said.
The only delegate who spoke Wednesday and voted against the bill, Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, expressed concern that entry level jobs, like movie theater ushers and gas station attendants, have disappeared. He said those jobs taught young employees work ethics.
Delegates Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan; Marty Gearhart, R-Mercer; Troy Andes, R-Putnam; and Larry Kump, R-Berkeley, also voted against the bill.
The state minimum wage last increased in 2008. West Virginia's current minimum wage, $7.25, is the same as the federal minimum wage.
This House bill will be considered in the Senate; however, a similar Senate bill will be voted on as well. The Senate version raises minimum wage to $7.85 per hour in July 2014, and $8.25 the following July. The Senate bill also allows for the rate to increase annually based on the Consumer Price Index.