AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday in support of a bill to establish a minimum wage for farmworkers and provide them with cost-of-living increases that other workers are eligible for.

Another round of votes is needed in the Senate and House of Representatives, but the bill appears to be on track to get final approvals as soon as this week and then get signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills.

The bill, L.D. 2273, passed 23-11 in the Senate with no debate. The Senate vote came a day after the House voted 72-70 in favor of the legislation.

The proposal was brought forward by Mills and amended slightly by the Labor and Housing Committee. It would give farmworkers, who are currently exempt from the state’s minimum wage law, the right to earn the state minimum wage – currently $14.15 per hour. They also would be eligible for cost-of-living increases that already apply to other workers.

The amended version of the bill approved Wednesday also strikes from the governor’s original bill a provision preventing farmworkers from suing their employers if they aren’t paid the minimum.

Opponents of the bill voiced concerns that it would prevent farmworkers from being paid for “piecework” based on how much they harvest, as opposed to an hourly rate.

A fiscal note attached to the bill says it may increase the number of civil lawsuits filed in the court system and could add additional costs for enforcement in the Department of Labor but both costs can be absorbed using existing resources.

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