Little more than three months after 55 percent of South Dakota voters approved a proposal to boost the state's minimum hourly wage to $8.50 and tie future increases to inflation, a bill before the South Dakota Legislature would drop that wage to $7.50 for workers under age 18 and uncouple the teen wage from inflationary increases.
Lawmakers at the Rapid City crackerbarrel town hall meeting on Feb. 21, 2015, voiced support for the plan, saying Senate Bill 177 is a strategy to head off a high unemployment rate for teens. The bill, which passed 26-7 on the Senate floor, has 50 co-sponsors from both the House and Senate.
Sen. Alan Solano, R-Rapid City, who is one of the co-sponsors, said he believes the Legislature should correct one aspect of what the voters passed in order to head off a rise in unemployment for South Dakota teenagers.
"Are we overturning the voters? I don't think that's true," Solano told the crackerbarrel crowd. "That $8.50 is still there. There are no opportunity for amendments on the ballot. There is a legislative process for amending what was done and to create this ability for the youth."
Solano said the 10 state's with the highest minimum wage rates in the nation also have teen unemployment rates about twice that of other states. With passage of the ballot measure, South Dakota is now among the top 10 state's for minimum wage rates.
"I think that's unfair to our youth, so I supported that bill," Solano said.
A member of the audience questioned the move, saying working teenagers are often saving for college or school trips, while some are relied on to pay household expenses. Teenagers must pay the same prices for goods and services the audience member noted, saying that paying them lower wages seemed unfair.
Solano countered that teenagers should have the opportunity to work, but such opportunties could become scarce without passage of SB177.
"My fear is that we are going to find that youth cannot find employment with the new minimum wage standard. For me, voting yes on the bill is really about voting for our youth to have opportunities to get employment," Solano said. "We are seeing (teen unemployment) numbers as high as 28.3 percent. South Dakota currently is 12.2 percent. When we look at other state's surrounding us, it is about 10 to 12 percent.
"Youth who start employment in high school tend to do better over their lifetime in terms of earnings. I don't want to take that opportunity away from them."
Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, did not co-sponsor the bill but agreed with Solano.
"I had a tough time voting against something the voters just approved in November, but for the reasons Sen. Salono mentioned, I did vote for it. I beleive there are serious issues with youth employment, and I believe this is a fix that will ultimately be helpful," Tieszen said.