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Comer On Recent House Measures: Child Abuse Prevention And Minimum Wage

Matt Markgraf

Congressman James Comer was the featured speaker at the Purchase Area Development District’s 50 year celebration on Monday in Paducah. He discussed the value of ADDs in rural areas and his involvement in some recent legislation making its way through Washington, including the reauthorizations of a bill designed to prevent child abuse and another supporting senior citizen services funding. He also talked about his opposition to a bill that would raise the minimum wage. 

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Comer said “time is of the essence” in the signing into federal law a bill designed to improve child abuse prevention and treatment. Comer, on the topic of working together, spoke about his work on the Education and Labor Committee passing through, eventually the full House of Representatives, the ‘Stronger Child Abuse Prevention And Treatment Act.’ 

The bill, he said, needs reauthorization every six years and the current bill expires at the end of October. He said Senator Mitch McConnell is aware of the legislation and President Trump has indicated he would sign the bill. Comer said that the Senate’s slow pace is, in part, due to its being "bogged down" in confirmations - both in judicial positions and cabinet secretaries. He also noted a "hyper partisan environment" in the Senate means the process often gets dragged out.

In describing what’s different about the new bill, Comer said the measure aims to create better communication lines between law enforcement and government bureaucracies, to boost prevention and to provide more funding for tackling child abuse. The idea, he said, is to do a better job of educating front line workers such as law enforcement, judiciary, school teachers and caretakers to identify child abuse and to report bad actors. He said the model is similar to the recent Safe Schools Act.

"If you go back to the Parkland school shooting, that school shooter had lots of suspicious activity in his past that would lead someone to believe that this kid needs to be investigated by some type of law enforcement agency. But, unfortunately, the sheriff's office went to his house many times, but the local police didn't know about it and the guidance counselors at the school didn't know about it and the neighbors didn't know about it. So what we've tried to do after the Parkland shooting and the Marshall County shooting is to better communicate between different law enforcement agencies on someone that would be suspect to having the ability to being a bad actor.”

He explained the process would be similar to what happens when someone threatens the president. "If someone threatens the president of the United States either in a social media post, in a letter, or in an interview on a radio show, it's immediately alerted to all the different law enforcement agencies and within one day someone's knocking on the door of whoever made the threat to the president. We want the same type of reaction if someone is reported to be suspicious of child abuse or neglect." 

Read the bill

Minimum Wage

The House of Representativesrecently passed a bill that gradually increases the minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour (from $7.25). The bill is not expected to gain traction in the Senate. NPR reports, a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office shows such a move would have a significant impact for millions of people, raising many out of poverty, but costing many others their jobs. Here’s a look at how it would affect the Ohio Valley region.

Congressman Comer said he opposed the minimum wage vote last week. "I try to consider myself pro-business and I have confidence that the business owner will make the best decision for their business,” he said. “I believe that we find ourselves today with an economy that's really strong, but one of the challenges in the economy is the shortage of workers. So we're starting to see wage inflation without passing any minimum wage increase. Wages are going up because of basic supply and demand. So I didn't feel like that was an issue worth tinkering with in this strong economy." 

When asked if there was a good time to support a minimum wage increase or whether there was a change he would support, Comer said no. "I think that the way to address wages is to let the market dictate the wages and I think that's working now. It probably didn't work in the past, but I think that in this environment with this strong economy and the shortage of workers we're going to continue to see wages increase without the government having to pass any type of bill to force employers to pay a minimum wage." 

He said big employers in Kentucky are generally having a hard time finding workers and are bidding against each other for workers, therefore raising wages. “I'm a marketplace kind of guy,” he said, “And I think the marketplace is dictating the wage." 

An analyst for the left-leaning Kentucky Center for Economic Policywrote this month that, in their analysis, wages have been flat for nearly two decades. United Health Foundation's “America's Health Rankings” most recent Annual Report shows an uptick in median household income in recent years.

Comer said the majority of people that he knows receiving minimum wage are young people in their first jobs. He said he doesn't want to hurt the prospects of young people trying to get their first jobs. "So we want to start young people out working because we want those young people to work and pay taxes and be productive citizens and the minimum wage jobs is going to be their first job."

When asked whether he would support no minimum wage, as in abolishing the minimum wage, Comer expressed that he supported leaving it the way it is, but doesn't think anyone would make an argument that a minimum wage is a living wage. "It's not a living wage," he said, and explained how he believes the government can encourage better wages.

"One of the things that I've always said in Frankfort that the Economic Development Cabinet should do is not pay - or offer - any types of economic development incentives to companies that don't pay a living wage. A lot of these businesses that the governor announces coming to Kentucky pay at or near the minimum wage. That's not a living wage. If you own a business and you want to pay the minimum wage that's your right. I'm fine with that. If you can find people to work for that minimum wage that's okay. But I don't think you deserve tax incentives because we should only provide tax incentives to businesses that pay people - at the very least - a living wage." 

According to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, A living wage for an adult in Kentucky is $10.82.

Read the recent minimum wage bill

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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