California lawmakers have approved the nation's highest statewide minimum wage of $15 an hour to take effect by 2022, the AP reports. The legislation passed Thursday now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign it into law after previously working out the plan with labor unions. Democrats who control both legislative chambers hailed the increase as a boon to more than 2 million of California's poorest workers and an example to the nation as it struggles with a growing gap between rich and poor. Republicans echoed fears from business owners and economists that the annual increases—eventually tied to inflation—would compound California's image as hostile to business.
The Assembly passed the legislation with a 48-26 vote and the Senate followed, 26-12. No Republican in either chamber voted in favor. Adam Gray was one of two Democrats in the Assembly who voted against it, saying unemployment is already too high in his Central Valley district, the Los Angeles Times reports. "While $15 an hour probably isn't even high enough for areas like San Francisco and parts of Los Angeles and our other urban centers, it's too high for some small businesses and some communities," he says. The increases would start with a boost from $10 to $10.50 on Jan. 1. Businesses with 25 or fewer employees would have an extra year to comply. The state of New York is considering a similar move. (Read more minimum wage stories.)