The Republican-controlled Senate narrowly passed a bill Thursday that would raise Maine’s minimum wage to $9 an hour.

But the Senate proposal contains a more modest wage increase than a version passed by the Democratic-controlled House this month and the two have several key policy differences. And with Gov. Paul LePage opposed to a minimum wage increase, it remains unclear whether the two bodies can settle on a compromise that could pass the Legislature and then survive a gubernatorial veto.

The Senate voted 18-17 in support of the bill, which would increase Maine’s current $7.50 hourly minimum by 50-cent increments each October for the next three years, capping off at $9 an hour on Oct. 1, 2018.

That is only 50 cents lower than the version passed by the House by a vote of 81-66 on June 8. But the Senate version would also prohibit municipalities from setting their own minimum wages – something under consideration in Portland – and would change child labor laws to allow minors to work longer hours or more days a week.

Democrats have opposed efforts to prohibit local wage laws as well as the Republican push to loosen restrictions on youth workers.

All 15 Democrats plus two Republicans voted against the version of L.D. 92 adopted by the Senate on Thursday. In the House, it was Democrats who supported and Republicans who opposed the version that would increase Maine’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour in October 2018, but does not contain the local-wage prohibition or changes to child labor restrictions contained in the Senate bill.

With the two versions at odds – and each chamber unlikely to adopt the other’s proposal – House and Senate leaders will now decide whether to appoint a conference committee to negotiate a compromise or allow the bill to die between the two chambers.

LePage is also likely to veto a wage increase – as he did a 2013 bill to gradually increase the minimum to $9 an hour – so any deal would have to win two-thirds support in both chambers to override a veto.

Peter Gore, a senior vice president with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said he hopes lawmakers continue working on the issue.

“For our perspective, we would like to see folks keep talking,” Gore said. “Perhaps it can’t be done this session. But with the looming referendum question, we would prefer to see the issue dealt with in the Legislature rather than through the referendum process.”

The referendum question stems from a citizens petition effort being spearheaded by the Maine People’s Alliance – a liberal grassroots activist group – and the Maine AFL-CIO labor organization that would ask Maine voters to increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour in 2017 and then by $1 a year until 2020. After reaching $12 an hour in 2020, the wage would be indexed to the cost of living.

According to Maine Department of Labor statistics, roughly 20,000 Mainers earned the minimum wage or less in 2013. That’s about 3 percent of the roughly 650,000 people working in the state that year.

Among the group earning the minimum, 44 percent had food service jobs where tips are commonplace, and 71 percent worked part time. Fifty-two percent of those earning the minimum wage were under age 25.

The median household income in Maine was $50,121 in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 13 percent of Maine’s roughly 554,000 households earned less than $15,000 a year from 2009 to 2013.

Kevin Miller can be reached at 791-6312 or at:

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