By ANITA HOFSCHNEIDER
HONOLULU — The Hawaii state House and Senate have approved separate proposals to raise the state minimum wage.
The initiative comes just weeks after President Barack Obama announced a plan to raise the national minimum wage to $9 an hour.
The Senate bill would gradually increase minimum wage to $9.25 in two years and fix the wage to the consumer price index starting in 2016.
The House proposal is less ambitious, raising the wage to $9 by 2017. The House proposal is rolled into a larger bill that deals with unemployment benefits.
Proponents say raising the state minimum wage — which is currently $7.25 per hour — will help Hawaii residents keep up with the rising cost of living. They say that the rising cost of rent is causing people with low-earning jobs to become homeless.
Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom voted against the Senate bill. The Republican has consistently opposed the initiative and says raising the minimum wage leads to higher unemployment.
Local businesses have expressed the same concern, saying that increased labor costs would decrease their total revenue.
Sen. Malama Solomon supported the Senate bill but said she is worried about the effects of fixing the wage to the consumer price index.
Now that both chambers have passed their versions of the bills, the Senate will debate the House proposal and vice versa. The chambers, which both have Democratic majorities, will need to work out a compromise to present to the governor at the end of this session.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie supports raising the wage. The Democrat asked lawmakers for a $1.50 wage increase by next year in his State of the State address in January.