By Andrew Gomes

A bill to raise Hawaii’s minimum hourly wage incrementally to $18 by 2026 cleared the first of two anticipated public hearings in the state Senate on Monday.

The five-member Senate Committee on Labor, Culture and the Arts unanimously passed Senate Bill 2018 unamended after hearing public testimony both for and against the measure.

Raising the minimum wage has been touted this year as a top priority of leaders in the Senate as well as in the House, where a bill was introduced Monday to achieve the $18 goal more gradually than the Senate bill would.

On Monday before the hearing on SB 2018, Senate President Ron Kouchi let Gov. David Ige know that the Legislature looks forward to working together to lift up everyone in the state. “Today the Senate is holding a hearing on a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $18, and I believe we’re taking a bold first step to deliver on that promise,” Kouchi said.

SB 2018 proposes to boost the minimum hourly wage three times within four years, going from $10.10 currently to $12 on Oct. 1, then to $15 on Jan. 1, 2024, and finally to $18 on Jan. 1, 2026.

of business if the minimum wage rises to $18 four years from now.

Tina Yamaki, president of trade group Retail Merchants of Hawaii, said the proposed Oct. 1 boost to $12 was a concern, and predicted that businesses would just pass the extra expense on to consumers.

Supporters of the bill included the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, the Hawaii Public Health Institute and the United Public Workers Union representing government employees.

Mike Golojuch Jr., a representative of the Stonewall Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, told the committee that more pay going into the pockets of workers would help increase spending that improves the local economy.

“It is not a job killer,” he said of minimum wage hikes. “It is a job creator.”

Kristen Alice with Hope Services Hawaii, an organization on Hawaii island that helps assist people with housing needs, said a stagnant minimum wage is one reason homelessness is growing, given that Hawaii’s already high housing costs keep going up.

“Wages have stayed the same, and that leads to more people experiencing homelessness,” she said.

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