Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Raise Oklahoma reports

More than 60 Oklahomans rallied at the state Capitol on Monday to urge legislators to pass legislation increasing the state minimum wage while they're in special session this week.

The rally was organized by Raise Oklahoma, a group circulating an initiative petition for an election to increase the state's $5.15 per hour minimum wage by $1, beginning Jan. 1, 2007, and by another $1 per hour beginning Jan. 1, 2008. The petition with a minimum of 117,101 valid signatures must be filed with the secretary of state June 28.

Speakers at Monday's rally urged Oklahomans to contact their legislators about getting a minimum wage bill on the special session agenda and passing it this week.

However, Gov. Brad Henry, who set the agenda for the special session, has wanted it limited strictly to appropriations.

"As he has said many times in recent weeks, Gov. Henry believes the special session agenda should be focused entirely on the most pressing issue at hand, the state budget. With a July 1 deadline looming on budget actions, the governor does not want lawmakers to be distracted or delayed by other issues, no matter how worthy they may be," said Paul Sund, the governor's communications director. "Certainly Gov. Henry wants to raise wages for Oklahomans and thinks the minimum wage issue is worthy of debate, but again, he believes the special session's focus must remain on the state budget."

Some who attended Monday's rally carried signs that said, "Why agree 1997 wages in 2006 are OK for citizens but not legislators?" and "Unions Raise Everyone's wage."

Linda Gray Murphy, campaign manager for Raise Oklahoma, told those gathered at the south steps of the state Capitol that most Oklahomans think the minimum wage should be increased.

"Over 30 percent on minimum wage are single working mothers," she said.

She also told the group not to believe the opponents' argument that the minimum wage increase would hurt business.

Those speaking at the rally included some legislators and clergy.

Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, author of a bill to raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma, said it is morally wrong not to increase the minimum wage.

"Those who oppose it know it's wrong," he said.

The Rev. Bruce Prescott, a Baptist minister from Norman, said the minimum wage is a moral issue, and refusing to fairly compensate workers for their time and energy is "an egregious injustice."

"Why must Oklahoma be an economic dust bowl for working people?" Prescott said.

Rabbi Barry Cohen of Temple B'nai Israel, said, "Raising the minimum wage is a simple act to help restore justice in our nation and our land."

Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, said people deserve a fair day's pay.

"What is fair about $5.15?" she said.


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