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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

  • 0boxerssuddenlinknet
    January 17, 2019 at 2:21 p.m.

    Gruffy, did Oklahoma have a disgruntled grower applicant file suit stopping the process ?

  • BoudinMan
    January 17, 2019 at 3:15 p.m.

    Talk about the "nanny state." This cretin legislator thinks he has to babysit us because don't know what's good for us. Well, Bally, most of us know you are NOT good for us.

  • Libertarian
    January 17, 2019 at 6:04 p.m.

    Minimum wage helps those with better skills, while hurting those with less skills to offer. Classically, there is no free lunch.

    January 17, 2019 at 6:18 p.m.

    This is a good start, And it surely will put a lot of good small businesses out of business or at the minimum cause them to not GROW. This feel good Minimum wage law is a feel good law that was not thought out very well, There are many many small businesses and organizations that are just getting by. Do you really want to put these out of business???

  • NoUserName
    January 17, 2019 at 6:53 p.m.

    Based on COL, Arkansas will have the highest minimum wage in the country in 2021.

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    January 17, 2019 at 9:19 p.m.

    This isnt the best and the brightest.
    It cant be.

  • CartoonDude
    January 18, 2019 at 7:41 a.m.

    Voters deciding what employers pay their employees is a terrible idea. It ignores all market forces, and simply forces new expense. Payroll represents more than half of the monthly expense at my store. Now voters who will not be affected by it are making business decisions for us that we will be forced to apply. I already pay employees more than minimum wage to start, but only a couple make $11/hour. It is a simple job running a cash register and stocking. If people don't think this is going to adversely affect employment, they soon will. Not to mention the cost of their food and other necessities will be going up. Most people who don't own businesses imagine the money just pours in to every store. Between wages, a mortgage payment, having to constantly pay for product, advertising, and Arkansas property taxes--which for our store works out to over $200/week, it is a challenge to make a profit on any month.

  • pcrasehotmailcom
    January 18, 2019 at 8:52 a.m.

    Cartoondude, how dare you make a profit. I mean, although you put your own capital at risk to start a business, you should be in operation for the sole purpose of providing living wage jobs to people regardless of their skills, dedication or work ethic. Have you no shame?

  • GeneralMac
    January 18, 2019 at 9:38 a.m.

    Since the public can now vote on the wages PRIVATE SECTOR employers can pay, what is next as we head down the "slippery slope" ?

    Maybe allowing citizens to VOTE on the MAXIMUM rate electricians or plumbers can charge when they do service calls at low wage earners' residence?

    How about a VOTE dictating that the Arkansas Democrat Gazette lower its subscription price to lower income people?

  • parajimbo
    January 20, 2019 at 3:31 p.m.

    To suggest the removal of protections, the elimination of a price floor for any class of workers is unthinkable. When introduced in the U.S. many had proposed and supported the minimum wage as a fair price for entry level workers but years later we find it has become a baseline standard even for the most senior members in our economy. There are young men and women whose wages are vital to their families total earnings, whose contribution is no less productive than their senior counterparts and to pass any legislation that would denigrate their value is wrought with only the darkest and most evil intentions for the well being of our people. On this point, the bill SB115 diminishes the referendum that was mandated by the people in November 2018 by excluding a class of citizens and will be used retroactively to reduce wages. This class is identified only by age and does not take into account skills or experience. The state senator's argument is: ""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." In contemplating the business acumen of the state senator's words (and personal history of financial distress), any small business teetering on failure due to the expense margin of youth on their payroll needs, at the very least, to adopt a new business plan. Targeting the riskiness of 16-year-olds without citing any sources for such a statement about this class of worker strikes me as patently offensive. When I and many others I know were 16 we worked jobs that required brain and brawn which were appropriate to the needs and exceeded the productivity of many of our older counterparts. Some of us were fast learners too, which we know can compensate for some of the experience of our older counterparts. Any prospective employee at any age comes with a skill set, a history and chances for success. These minimum wage increases are much needed but still a far cry from producing a living wage which can be essential to supplement their families' income. For others the increase in wages might provide the opportunity for a hard working youth to save up to buy their first vehicle at which time their value to their employer and the work world increases significantly. Still other minimum wage workers, who don't hoard their wealth in overseas accounts (just kidding of course) can be expected to spend more in their local economy which will benefit um - - - oh! those mom and pop businesses.