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story.lead_photo.caption Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, is shown in this file photo.

A minimum-wage increase passed by more than two-thirds of Arkansas voters in the November election would be partially undone by legislation filed Wednesday by state Sen. Bob Ballinger, a Republican from Hindsville.

Ballinger's proposed legislation, Senate Bill 115, would exempt anyone under the age of 18 from the state's minimum wage, as well as anyone employed at a school, preschool, college, nonprofit organization or business with fewer than 50 employees.

As set out in the initiated act approved by voters in the 2018 general election, Arkansas' minimum wage rose to $9.25 an hour on Jan. 1 and is set to incrementally increase to $11 in 2021. Employers and workers covered by SB115 would be exempt from that increase, as well as from the previous $8.50 minimum wage approved by voters in 2014.

Only the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour would apply to workers affected by Ballinger's bill.

"I totally get the people voted," Ballinger said. "I really don't think the people intended to put their mom-and-pop businesses out of business. They didn't want to shut down ministries and nonprofits, they didn't want to make it where if a business wants to take a chance on a 16-year-old kid, they have to pay him $11 an hour. That wasn't the intent."

Democrats on Wednesday quickly denounced the plan as an effort to sidestep voters.

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

"It is a direct affront to the will of Arkansas voters who overwhelmingly wanted to see a minimum-wage increase," said Rep. Nicole Clowney, D-Fayetteville. "I guarantee when Arkansas voters voted in favor of a minimum-wage increase, they intended that for all Arkansas workers, including, for instance, the aides in our children's kindergarten classrooms."

The Arkansas Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of both chambers to amend any part of an initiated act, and Democrats currently make up about a quarter of both the House and Senate.

However, Ballinger said his bill -- which expands upon the definitions of "employee" and "employer" that were not changed by either wage increase -- might not be affected by the two-thirds requirement.

Ballinger, an attorney who was recently elected to the Senate after three terms in the House, said he wanted to get two-thirds support to avoid any doubts, though he declined to say what he would do if his bill failed to pass such a threshold.

David Couch, the attorney who led the petition drive for the minimum-wage measure, said Wednesday that Ballinger's legislation was "horrible" and that it would require a two-thirds vote to pass.

"Surely there are nine or 10 Republicans out there who would vote against this," Couch said, noting that the exemption would apply to many hospitals and nursing homes that operate as nonprofits.

It's unclear what percentage of Arkansas' workforce Ballinger's proposal would cover, though Couch estimated that it would affect more than half of all employers.

Randy Zook, the director of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, did not return a request for comment. The chamber opposed the minimum-wage increase.

In a statement, Arkansas Education Association President Cathy Koehler called the bill "unconscionable."

"In recent months, educators across America have been forced into the streets to demand better pay," Koehler said in a statement. "In Arkansas, the Governor has received wide support for his proposal to increase the minimum teacher salary."

A spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday that the governor had not had a chance to review the legislation. Hutchinson, a Republican, opposed the minimum-wage increase, which was also known as Issue 5.

Rep. Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock, a former teacher at Central High School, said that exempting schools and preschools from the minimum-wage law could drive qualified people in those professions to work elsewhere.

"Minimum wage should be minimum wage, it should be for everyone; I don't think we should start excluding people," McCullough said.

While Ballinger agreed that his bill "makes for competition" with bigger retailers or employers, he said the intention behind his bill was to increase employment opportunities for "real young people or people who have a criminal background or bad working history."

Arkansas' current minimum wage already excludes employers with fewer than four workers, and there are additional exceptions, such as for tipped workers.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Arkansas has a higher minimum wage than any of its neighbors. Of those states, only Missouri, at $8.60 per hour, sets its minimum wage higher than the federally mandated minimum.

Metro on 01/17/2019

Print Headline: Senator's bill would partially undo Arkansas' minimum-wage increase

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Archived Comments

  • JIMBOB47
    January 17, 2019 at 5:49 a.m.

    He is right, at least for part of it. No first-time 16-yr-old needs to make that amount.

  • Foghorn
    January 17, 2019 at 6:31 a.m.

    He is wrong. About everything. Always. He’s a moron.

  • RBear
    January 17, 2019 at 6:35 a.m.

    Apparently, the will of 605,784 voters means nothing to Ballinger in filing this bill. I can somewhat agree with Jimbo on his point and that might be a concession on this bill. However, the other parts I cannot agree with. I have sent communication to both Ballinger and my state senator. Raising the minimum wage has proven to be an economic plus for local economies since the vast majority of the increase is spent locally by those families who receive it. They are just trying to make ends meet and that usually means spending on food, clothing, and child care, all spent in the local economy. The economic multiplier helps compound the increase to improve the local economy, including through increased sales taxes.

  • LR1955
    January 17, 2019 at 6:48 a.m.

    If a 16 yr old is doing the exact same work as an 18 yr old, he should be paid the same.

  • RBear
    January 17, 2019 at 7:01 a.m.

    LR1955 very good point and that might be the point that craters Ballinger’s bill. Having the difference could set the bill up for a strong legal challenge or complicate working conditions at some businesses. My guess is Ballinger doesn’t think these things through.

  • LRCrookAtty
    January 17, 2019 at 7:04 a.m.

    YES!

  • BoudinMan
    January 17, 2019 at 7:29 a.m.

    Repugs are constantly trying to undo the will of the people. Look at the medicinal marijuana vote. How long ago did that pass by the will of the people? They will do nothing to help the middle class. They get in office because many Americans vote against their own self-interests.

  • jwheelii
    January 17, 2019 at 7:44 a.m.

    Not a good move, Ballinger.

  • RBear
    January 17, 2019 at 7:51 a.m.

    So LRCrook supports a state legislator overturning the will of the voter. Got it.

  • LRCrookAtty
    January 17, 2019 at 7:54 a.m.

    Not overturning, just narrowing.

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