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College Women Debate Idaho's Minimum Wage at Statehouse

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- Gathering at the podium to stand in favor of raising Idaho's minimum wage -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Gathering at the podium to stand in favor of raising Idaho's minimum wage
It was so bright out that you almost didn't know where the marble of the Capitol steps ended and the sky began, but the afternoon of June 5, 26 college women from across Idaho had gathered to participate in a civic exercise that impacts the lives of thousands of Idahoans: to debate raising the Gem State's minimum wage.

They gathered to enact a mock press conference and legislative session as part of the Boise State University School of Public Service's New Leadership Idaho program, where, for the last week, these women had undertaken intense research and preparation under the tutelage of policymakers, experts and members of the media. They were then assigned roles—for and against—raising the minimum wage, which they acted out this afternoon.

"I hadn't decided yet [whether she was for or against raising the minimum wage]. I think it has been a great aspect to research the bill. Right now, I think I'm against raising the minimum wage: There's dignity in working," said College of Idaho business administration major Deena Emry. 

Emry hails from the Homedale/Wilder area, where her father is a farmer and her mother is an accountant. During the mock debate, she testified in favor of raising the minimum wage as a spokesperson for Lift Up Idaho. 

- The mock Senate State Affairs Committee -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • The mock Senate State Affairs Committee
Another participant, Aspen Compton, was a member of the event's mock press corps, "emulating" Idaho Reports co-host Melissa Davlin. A Boise State University senior majoring in political science, Compton has also worked for A.J. Balukoff's gubernatorial campaign, first as a volunteer and later as an intern. She told Boise Weekly that prior to her New Leadership Idaho experience she already believed Idaho should raise its minimum wage, but working closely with fellow students and instructors gave her new insight into the issue.

"There are real reasons behind people's beliefs," she said. "I've had to seek out others instead of settling with my own opinion."

We asked her what it was like to put herself in the shoes of a legislative reporter.

"I had no idea how hard it is to frame questions. It's kind of an art," she said.

Following the mock press conference, the women convened in House Room EW42—the so-called Garden Wing—where a mock Senate State Affairs Committee heard from real-life Idaho House Rep. Mat Erpelding read SB-111, which would decouple Idaho's minimum wage from the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. During the 2015 Idaho Legislative session, Erpelding touted a bill that would raise the Gem State's minimum wage from the federal minimum to $9.25 per hour in 2016, then peg it to the consumer price index. Erpelding told the mock legislators before him during the bill's introduction that over the last two years, his votes in the Idaho House of Representatives have been pro-business, but that "it's disrespectful to the people if I'm not pro-worker."

That resonated with Boise State international business major Yara Slaton. Slaton is the single mother of a 12-year-old daughter, and that social welfare programs "were key to my survival." For her New Leadership Idaho experience, she was assigned the task of arguing against raising the minimum wage in the mock debate, but said that she is personally "completely in support" of Erpelding's legislation.

"People don't recognize their privilege. They chose me to be an opponent [during the mock debate] to stretch me a little bit," she said.