By David Bailey
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Minnesota lawmakers on Thursday approved a measure raising the state's minimum wage from one of the lowest in the nation to one of the highest.
The measure to bump the hourly wage to $9.50, one of dozens of wage proposals debated by lawmakers around the country this year, passed the Democrat-controlled House by a vote of 71-60. The Democrat-run Senate approved the measure on Wednesday.
It now goes to Democratic Governor Mark Dayton, who supports the bill.
The bill raises the Minnesota's minimum wage for larger employers over three years starting in August and links increases to an inflation indicator starting in 2018.
The bill drew praise from President Barack Obama, who has urged Congress to raise the federal minimum wage.
"With this important step, Minnesota joins a growing coalition of states, cities, counties and businesses that have taken action to do the right thing for their workers and their citizens," Obama said in a statement.
Proposals to raise the minimum wage have been considered in nearly three dozen states in 2014, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Increases have been approved in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia.
"This is about providing spending power to people who need it," said Representative Jason Metsa, a Democrat from northern Minnesota.
The bill drew sharp criticism from Republican lawmakers who questioned its impact on smaller businesses, entry-level jobs and neighboring states.
"You are going to drive jobs out of the state of Minnesota," said Representative Kurt Daudt, the Republican minority leader in the state House.
Minnesota's current minimum wage, $6.15 per hour, is among the lowest in the nation, far below the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which is also the minimum in its neighboring states Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota.
Democrats said the legislation would raise the wages of about 350,000 state residents and most would return the money to the state economy by spending it on groceries and other needs.
(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Gunna Dickson)