The state Senate on Monday approved a bill that would raise the minimum wage in California from $9 to $11 an hour on Jan. 1 and boost it again to $13 in 2017, with supporters saying it is necessary to lift millions of workers out of poverty.
"It is time that we make it illegal to pay sub-poverty wages in California," Leno told his colleagues during the heated floor debate.
He said the wage increase would boost the economy because working families would be able to spend more money at local businesses. "Its going to be spent immediately to meet daily needs in our community," he said.
The Senate approved the bill on a 23-15 party line vote.
Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Murrieta) predicted raising the minimum wage would force businesses to cut their number of workers. The proposal "hurts the economy by causing job losses," he said.
An employee working full time and earning $9 per hour takes home $18,000 annually before taxes, Leno said, noting that is 75% of the federal poverty line for a family of four.
A bill approved two years ago has the minimum wage increasing to $10 on Jan. 1 in California. His new bill would have set raises and then increase wages with the rate of inflation starting in 2019.
Leno failed to win legislative approval last year of a bill similar to his new proposal. But since then, action has been taken by some California cities, including Los Angeles, where the
California's bill also gained momentum after minimum wage ballot measures passed in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, which are more politically conservative states. Lower wages force the state to provide financial assistance to families, he said.
"We taxpayers subsidize employers who pay sub-poverty wages," Leno said before the vote to approve his bill, SB 3, which now goes to the Assembly for consideration.
READ MORE ON THE MINIMUM WAGE DEBATE: