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story.lead_photo.caption Rep. Robin Lundstrum listens on the House floor to debate about one of two bills she presented Monday that would amend the minimum-wage act approved by voters in November. Both bills failed to pass. More photos are available at - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

Two bills that would reduce the reach of Arkansas' new voter-approved minimum-wage law failed to gain traction Monday in the state House of Representatives, where lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected exemptions for teenagers and hourly employees of small businesses and nonprofit groups.

The sponsor of both bills, Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, told the House that the wage increase approved by voters last November came with "unintended consequences" that lawmakers needed to remedy.

Voters approved raising the state minimum wage from $8.50 to $9.25 per hour, effective Jan. 1. The wage will rise to $10 an hour in 2020 and $11 an hour in 2021 under the initiated act.

"You're not going to get that [first job] when it goes up to $10, $11," Lundstrum said.

The first piece of legislation she ran Monday, House Bill 1753, would allow teenagers to continue to receive the wage increase this year, but would exempt them from wage increases in 2020 and 2021.

House Bill 1752 also would allow the current wage of $9.25 for workers of some small businesses and nonprofit groups. The bill would eliminate the 2020 and 2021 raises for employees of businesses with fewer than 25 employees; nonprofit groups with an annual budget of less than $1 million; and nonprofit developmental service providers whose operations are primarily funded by state or federal reimbursement or both, on a fee-for-service schedule.

Lundstrum said of HB1752, "Our small businesses are the heart of our small towns, our business corridors. Our nonprofits are our souls."

[RELATED: Complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature]

In separate votes Monday, the 100-member House rejected both of Lundstrum's proposals. Each bill needed 67 votes to pass because each would have amended an initiated act of the people.

The House rejected HB1753 by a vote of 34 to 42. The second bill dealing with smaller employers and nonprofit groups, HB1752, received even less support, falling by a vote of 29 to 45.

Before running her bills in the House on Monday afternoon, Lundstrum attempted to gather some support from the Legislative Black Caucus at the group's weekly meeting on Monday morning.

Members of the caucus, however, pushed back on Lundstrum's assertions that the popular minimum-wage initiative needed to be rolled back.

"How do you know the consequences are unintended?" asked Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, the caucus chairman.

Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, also questioned Lundstrum's assertions at the caucus. Later, on the House floor, he spoke against opting out teenagers from the higher wages.

The voters "overwhelmingly passed the bill to raise the minimum wage. They did not make the exception that is being proposed," Walker said.

Gallery: Arkansas General Assembly day 78

The minimum-wage proposal, one of three proposals on the ballot in the November general election, received 605,784 votes for and 279,046 against.

No member of the Legislative Black Caucus nor any Democrats voted for either of Lundstrum's bills. Fewer than half of the Republican majority voted for either bill.

In March, after Lundstrum's bills made it out of committee, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced in a speech that he opposed making changes to the initiated act.

"I don't think that helped," Lundstrum said Monday of the governor's comments. "That still doesn't answer the question about small businesses and nonprofits. ... Those problems aren't going to go away just because we had a vote today."

Lundstrum said she would not make attempts to revive either bill during the remainder of the ongoing regular session, which is scheduled to recess by the end of next week.

David Couch, the architect of the minimum-wage ballot issue, said he had been surprised by the lopsided vote in the House. Lundstrum's bills, he said, "went down in a blaze of glory."

A group aligned with Couch, Arkansans for a Fair Wage, had run digital ads on Facebook and Twitter over the weekend immediately before the vote, calling out lawmakers who had voted to support the bills in committee. The posts, which Couch said were targeted at people in the lawmakers' districts, featured the names and faces of each lawmaker, along with a warning that "this politician is working against the people of Arkansas."

After the vote on Monday, the group -- using the Twitter name Save AR Wage -- posted a "Hall of Shame" with the names of lawmakers who had voted for Lundstrum's bills in the House.

"Everything that they raised had been raised during the campaign and the people voted on it," Couch said. "To me, it was the consequences people intended."

Lundstrum had also faced criticism from Democrats and advocates of the wage increase for passing her bills through the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor during meetings that stretched late into the evenings. Lundstrum, who does not serve on the committee, has said she waited in line to present her bills like the rest of her colleagues.

Photo by Staton Breidenthal
Rep. John Walker speaks on the House floor Monday against one of the two bills that would have amended the minimum wage act.

A Section on 04/02/2019

Print Headline: Arkansas House rejects bills to amend new wage law


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Archived Comments

  • RBear
    April 2, 2019 at 6:15 a.m.

    What Lundstrum attempted to do was allow a small group of conservative legislators who, quite honestly, hadn't really studied the minimum wage bill and it's potential impact, both economically and socially, to overrule the will of the voter. Lundstrum talked about unintended consequences, yet she cannot articulate what those would be with any fact. It is evident she is trying to legislate from an agenda rather than focus on the people of Arkansas.
    Studies across the nation have actually showed that increasing the minimum wage, something the federal government has failed to for decades while inflation rises, does not have the impact many conservatives claim. Quite honestly, if it did they would be trotting those studies out right and left to stem a rising tide of increases across the nation.
    But this isn't Lundstrum's only attack on Arkansans. She is also the representative who put roadblocks up against Rep. Jimmy Gazaway's habitability standards bill which holds landlords accountable for providing habitable dwellings for renters, something Arkansas lags the nation on as the only state without such protections. But why wouldn't we see her object to that legislation? After all, her "listed" occupation is property manager. Based on that fact, she should have recused herself from even considering that measure.
    Lundstrum is really just a shell legislator, funneling legislation and votes that are fed to her by conservative PACs and coalitions. She commonly sponsors bills also sponsored by her equally conservative counterparts in the Senate, namely Sen. "Look Busy" Garner and Sen. Rapert. Those acts alone show that she's their (you insert the word) in the Senate.

  • hah406
    April 2, 2019 at 8:26 a.m.

    I actually like Robin Lundstrum. She is kind, personable, and generally speaking listens to people. But this was an epic fail on her part. The people overwhelmingly voted for this amendment full well knowing the intended consequences. People WILL still get that first job, because businesses don't operate without employees. We knew about it when we voted for it!
    And her objections to habitability standards for rental property are absolutely abhorrent. Arkansas has far too many slumlords in the legislature, and this is another fine example of why we need conflict of interest exemptions as part of the ethical standards in the legislature.

  • mrcharles
    April 2, 2019 at 9:29 a.m.

    The shock of jellfish, otherwise known as gop ILKS has once again tried to use their authoritarian divine right of kings ideology to look out for the peasants who voted for a particular result. The peasants not knowing what they did have to be protected from themselves by those who self decided duty is to Shepard the sheep. Sadly here they were shut down, but dont worry you supporters of such ILKS , including the head ILK DT, it is in their blood and in the cobwebs in their mind to try try again to shepard the peasants as they see fit from divine revelation [ often by the head divine, DT]

    In fairness to the gop, there has always been those sheep who appeal to a great leader, a dear leader, so that they do not have to think , except as to who to be afraid of and who to hate. Sometimes they complain in what they get, but I have no sympathy towards them , as if they accept the idea of keeping their guns, keeping their bible and keeping their Idols on courthouse lawn honoring killers who often awoke before dawn and put their boots on and walked on down the hall to figure out how to keep that time honored bible slavery idea alive, then their whining of actual results to their life is perhaps a punishment from the boss of bosses or just s--t happens.

    I see the dream of our legislature turning us into kansas a touch and go situation.

  • wolfman
    April 2, 2019 at 10:58 a.m.

    Even though I voted against the minimum wage increase, how for a moment does this lawmaker think he can change something the voters approved. what doesn't surprise me is he is a republican. Why discriminate paying the increase just because of age. People in his district need to remember this when it's time to vote.

  • AnonymousinAR
    April 2, 2019 at 11:34 a.m.

    Maybe she needs to talk to Linda Collins-Smith about making voters unhappy. Just because she's a Republican doesn't mean she's unbeatable. Maybe the next election she'll face an "unintended consequence" of being voted out of office. Seems she thinks she knows what's best for the voters of Arkansas. Maybe she should run for dictator.