SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, on Wednesday introduced a new bill alongside five of his colleagues in the U.S. Senate as he tries – again – to raise the minimum wage for American workers to an amount higher than $7.25 per hour.
The bill was introduced just hours before Utah's junior senator in Congress announced he would not be seeking another term.
Despite rising costs of living, the federal minimum wage has not been increased in more than a decade," Romney said in a statement released by his office on Wednesday morning, "which has left millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet.
The news was greeted with a mix of optimism and skepticism by a former Utah state representative.
"I think any increase is good," said Clare Collard. " But does it do it? Does it really help working families in the state of Utah and across the nation?"
When Collard was in the Utah legislature, she introduced a bill that would make the state's minimum wage $15 per hour. She did acknowledge that small businesses and rural areas might need to be treated differently.
It's a complicated issue and I've talked to a lot of small business owners over the years," she said. "There probably needs to be some kind of benchmark that's regional. So perhaps in rural Utah, the minimum wage would not be $18 or $15 per hour. Perhaps that would be $11 per hour.
But Collard said a $15 wage, even more, was appropriate for the Wasatch Front.
During some of the more dire months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Utah's junior senator in Congress, alongside Sen. Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz., and several other moderate lawmakers tried to tack a $10 minimum wage increase to President Joe Biden's rescue plan.
Ultimately, it was not included in the final bill and the proposal was taken back to the drawing table for revisions.
A notable change in Wednesday's bill, the Higher Wages for American Workers Act, was the addition of a dollar to the previous suggested wage. However, many of the major elements of the newest piece of legislation, which is co-sponsored by Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Bill Cassidy, R-La., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., and JD Vance, R-Ohio, are similar to those in Romney's previous bills.
One such element would be to mandate the use of E-Verify for all workers, to ensure the minimum wage would be given only to those who are legally allowed to hold jobs in the U.S.
Requiring employers to use E-Verify would ensure that the wage increase goes to legal workers," Romney said, "which would protect American jobs and eliminate a key driver of illegal immigration.
The bill would also increase penalties for employers who knowingly hire immigrant workers who aren't legally allowed to work in the country.
Cotton said that undocumented immigrants were working jobs that would otherwise be done by American citizens, though finding conclusive research supporting or disproving that claim can be difficult. Federal government studies on the labor claims hold back from reporting anything definitive, though there does seem to be a consensus that, if jobs were being blocked from Americans because they were filled by an undocumented immigrant, the workers affected would likely be low-skilled, low-education minority Americans.
Ending the black market for illegal labor will open up jobs for Americans," said Cotton, who has long been an opponent of undocumented immigrant labor. "Raising the minimum wage will allow Americans filling those jobs to better support their families. Our bill does both.
The bill, if passed, would gradually increase minimum wages over the course of four years until it hits $11. After that, the country's minimum wage would increase according to inflation every two years.
Small businesses - classified in the bill as companies with 20 employees or fewer, would have a slower phase-in to reach the $11-per-hour mark.
“Few issues are as important to the American people as the availability of good jobs in our communities," Collins said in a statement. "I recognize the difficulties for anyone who is trying to make ends meet while earning the federal minimum wage that has clearly not kept pace with inflation."
Our bill provides a commonsense solution to increase wages for millions of Americans for the first time in ten years while avoiding the unintended consequence of small businesses being forced to eliminate jobs or reduce hours for their employees,” she added.
Romney said in a statement Wednesday that, while he won't be seeking another term in Congress, "I’m not retiring from the fight."
"I’ll be your United States Senator until January 2025," the statement reads. "I will keep working on these and other issues and I will advance our state’s numerous priorities. "