April Corbin Girnus

(Nevada Current) Nevadans this November will have the opportunity to establish a $12 per hour minimum wage for almost all employees in the state.

Currently, Nevada has a two-tiered minimum wage system: The minimum wage allowed for employees who are offered qualifying health insurance is $1 less per hour than the minimum wage rate allowed for employees who are not offered qualifying health insurance. Question 2, which will appear on the upcoming general election ballot, would amend the Nevada Constitution and establish a minimum hourly wage of $12, regardless of what types of benefits the employer offers.

If passed, the new minimum wage would become effective July 1, 2024.

Nevada’s minimum wage is already scheduled to rise on that date to $12 per hour for employees who are not offered health insurance by their employers. That’s because the Nevada State Legislature passed a bill in 2019 to step up the minimum wage by 75 cents annually until it reached $12 per hour in 2024.

The minimum wage for employees who are offered health insurance is currently scheduled to rise to $11 per hour on July 1, 2024.

Proponents of Question 2 see dismantling the two-tiered minimum wage system as the closing of a loophole that has benefited greedy employers, which can offer subpar health insurance in order to pay workers the lower tier minimum wage. They argue that many minimum wage workers are declining such insurance because it is still too costly, which means they are left with no insurance (or insurance provided elsewhere) but still stuck earning at the lower minimum wage rate.

What qualifies as acceptable health insurance for employers is set in administrative code, adding another level of potential confusion for both businesses and workers. Question 2 removes that confusion by removing entirely the component of employee benefits.

The language of Question 2 also makes it clear that state lawmakers still have the power to set a minimum wage rate that is higher than $12 per hour. They simply could not go lower.

Federal lawmakers could also force Nevada’s minimum wage even higher, if they were to raise the federal minimum wage to more than $12 per hour. However, the existing federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has not changed since 2009.

Nevada’s current minimum wage rates are $9.50 and  $10.50 per hour. Those rates are set to rise to $10.25 and $11.25 per hour on July 1, 2023.

Question 2 also removes existing language in the Nevada Constitution that establishes a method for automatically adjusting the state minimum wage based on federal minimum wage increases (that fall short of $12), and cost of living increases. Those provisions were added into the state constitution by voters in 2006’s Minimum Wage Amendment but in practice have not led to continual increases to workers’ wallets.

Nevada’s minimum wage rates remained flat at $7.25 and $8.25 from 2010 to 2019. They were raised in 2019 only because of legislative action by the Democratic-controlled statehouse and governorship.

In 2019, Democratic lawmakers briefly floated proposals to swiftly hike the minimum wage to $15 per hour — a number favored by wage advocates nationally. That proposal was adjusted down, and the plan to implement it spread out over several years, in order to make it more “palatable” to the business community, which typically argues that the market should dictate wages.

Twelve dollars per hour is equivalent to $24,960 annually, if a person works 40 hours per week for 52 weeks. Eleven dollars per hour is equivalent to $22,880 annually.

Earlier this year, in July, Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak remarked to reporters that “minimum wage kind of took care of itself” — referring to businesses that have raised their starting wages in order to attract employees amid a labor shortage.

Nevada voters in 2004 and 2006 overwhelmingly passed the Minimum Wage Amendment, with 68.4% and 68.7% approval, respectively. That constitutional amendment qualified for those ballots through the initiative process, which requires approval by voters twice.

This year’s Question 2, because it began as a resolution (AJR10) passed by the legislature in two sequential sessions (2019 and 2021), only needs to pass once before becoming law.