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More signatures back proposal to raise state's minimum wage

Supporters 10,000 short of putting proposal on Nov. 6 ballot by John Moritz | August 4, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

More signatures were submitted to the Arkansas secretary of state's office Friday on petitions for a proposal to eventually raise the state's minimum wage to $11 per hour.

About 10,000 of the 44,665 signatures submitted Friday would need to be certified as valid in order to pass the threshold for the proposed initiated act to be placed on the Nov. 6 ballot for a popular vote.

David Couch, the Little Rock attorney behind the effort, submitted his initial batch of more than 69,000 signatures to the office of Secretary of State Mark Martin in early July. Martin's office verified the validity of three-quarters of those signatures and on Monday gave Couch 30 more days to attempt to reach the 67,887-signature threshold.

Just a few days later, on Friday, Couch showed up with eight more boxes containing petitions with 7,706 pages of signatures. He told reporters that his paid canvassers had never stopped collecting signatures from across the state while his first batch was reviewed.

"We kept the same crew; we never stopped collecting," Couch said.

Arkansas' current minimum wage is $8.50 per hour. Under Couch's proposal, it would rise to $9.25 in 2019, $10 in 2020 and $11 in 2021.

Even if the secretary of state's office certifies Couch's minimum-wage effort for the ballot, those opposed to the initiative could challenge the validity of the signatures in court. Based on the number of legal challenges to other initiatives in recent election years, Couch said he believed someone will sue in an effort to keep the wage increase off this year's ballot.

A ballot question committee headed by Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce President Randy Zook was formed in July to "advocate for disqualification and defeat" of the minimum-wage initiative, according to paperwork filed with the Arkansas Ethics Commission. The group has yet to file a finance report with the commission.

Couch also has a ballot committee to support his initiative. According to its July financial report, Arkansans For a Fair Wage has raised more than $155,000 and spent more than $100,000, mostly to pay for canvassers hired through National Ballot Access.

Almost all of the funding for Couch's committee has come from two groups: The Fairness Project and National Employment Law Project, both based in Washington, D.C.

In 2014, Arkansas voters elected to raise the minimum wage to its current level, with 65 percent of the vote. That successful initiative gave Arkansas a higher minimum wage than any bordering state. Missouri, with a $7.85-per-hour minimum wage, is the only bordering state with its minimum wage higher than the federal minimum.

A proposed ballot initiative in neighboring Missouri would raise that state's minimum wage to $12 an hour in 2023, if passed by voters.

The Arkansas minimum- wage initiative is one of several being reviewed by the secretary of state's office. Last week, the office gave backers of a proposed constitutional amendment to expand casino gambling 30 days to gather more signatures. On Friday, the secretary of state's office said a proposal on term limits for legislators qualified for the ballot.

Two proposed constitutional amendments were submitted by the Legislature. One would limit lawsuit damages and attorneys' fees and allow the Legislature to change court rules. The other would require voters to submit photo ID.

Metro on 08/04/2018

Print Headline: More signatures back wage issue


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