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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — In this file photo, Governor Asa Hutchinson speaks Wednesday, January 2, 2019 before his announcement of Keith Gibson as the incoming Arkansas Highway Commissioner at the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce in Fort Smith. - Photo by David Gottschalk

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday acknowledged the will of the people and declared that he opposed bills seeking to exempt teenagers, small businesses and nonprofit groups from the voter-approved initiated act to raise the state's minimum wage.

The Republican governor's remarks at a luncheon of the Political Animals Club in Little Rock came after the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Tuesday night advanced the two bills that would reduce the minimum wage law's impact.

In November, voters approved raising the state's minimum wage from $8.50 to $9.25 on Jan. 1 of this year, to $10 an hour next year and then to $11 an hour in 2021.

House Bill 1752 by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, would exempt businesses with fewer than 25 employees from the wage law starting next year. Nonprofit "developmental service providers" and nonprofit organizations with annual budgets of less than $1 million also would be exempt under the bill.

Another bill, House Bill 1753, also by Lundstrum, would exempt workers ages 16-19.

Lundstrum said Tuesday that the voter-approved measure would pose a challenge for small businesses next year when the minimum wage is scheduled to start rising.

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

At Wednesday's luncheon, Hutchinson was asked about Lundstrum's legislation.

"Now I ... see Kenny over here for the chamber that has worked on this," he said, referring to Ken Hall, executive vice president of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, which opposed the initiated act.

"I am very sympathetic to those needs and that's really one of the reasons that I did not support the initiative to raise that minimum wage because of what this means to teenage employment, what does this mean to small business and nonprofits," Hutchinson said.

"But having said the concern about it, this is an act of the will of the people of Arkansas, and I do not believe it should be changed by a legislative act," he said, drawing scattered applause from the audience.

"I think that's an important message," he said.

Also, the Republican Party of Arkansas released a statement Wednesday saying the minimum wage initiated act -- and other citizen-approved measures -- should be amended only when "circumstances so demand."

"Until then, we should follow the direction of the people and not attempt to alter it," the statement said.

Lundstrum said Wednesday that she plans to move forward with the legislation despite opposition from the governor and her party. She also said she plans to amend the bill to clarify that no businesses may pay any workers less than $9.25 an hour -- the current state minimum wage.

"I realize the people voted," she said. "But we vote for things ... and sometimes there are unintended consequences that need to be addressed. I am confident the people of Arkansas didn't vote to hurt their nonprofits."

She also said the minimum wage increase will hurt small businesses and teens looking for their first jobs.

"It's like belly buttons; everybody's got an opinion," Lundstrum said. "We're here to represent the people of Arkansas. I'm listening to my nonprofits and my small businesses. It's important for teens to have jobs. ... This is too important to not step up and say something right now."

The bills will require two-thirds of the approval of the 100-member House and 35-member Senate. Lundstrum said she'd accept the vote outcome of her fellow members.

At the same time the governor was addressing the Political Animals Club, House Democrats held a news conference at the Democratic Party of Arkansas headquarters where they criticized the 6 p.m. Tuesday committee vote to advance Lundstrum's proposals. They said it was held under "the literal cover of darkness."

David Couch, the Little Rock attorney who ran the ballot campaign to raise the minimum wage, weighed in on Twitter later Wednesday, saying "no one knew" ahead of time that Lundstrum's bills were going to be considered.

"It was infuriating when [the] chairman said, 'Well, I see no one has signed up to speak against the bills,'" Couch wrote.

Informed of the governor's comments after the Democrats' news conference had ended, Democratic Party Chairman Michael John Gray and House Minority Leader Charles Blake, D-Little Rock, expressed gratitude toward the governor.

"To his credit, and I've said it when he does it, the governor has broken with the ideological points of view sometimes to say 'No,'" Gray said.

Asked if the Democratic caucus was unified in its opposition to Lundstrum's bills -- which would in turn allow the bills to be defeated with only a fraction of Republicans voting "no" -- Blake said some Democrats may end up supporting the bills.

"We are the big-tent party," Blake said. "We will try to convince [other members], but there is no mandate."

Employers can obtain waivers from the state Department of Labor under which full-time students can be paid 85 percent of the minimum wage, Hutchinson told the Political Animals.

"I have asked them to lean forward to make sure these are available and can give [the waivers] for qualified employers," Hutchinson said. "So there is a risk there, but I think the public has spoken on it, and I think we need to abide by that."

Denise Oxley, general counsel for the state Department of Labor, said in an email to this newspaper that the current minimum wage law provides that a full-time student attending any accredited institution of education in this state and who is employed to work 20 hours or less when school is in session or 40 hours or less when school is not in session can be paid 85 percent of the state minimum wage rate.

"The agency's administrative rules require an employer to apply for a waiver, in part, so we can ensure the employer is aware of the hours restriction," she wrote. "Additionally, students performing services for the school college, or university in which he or she is enrolled and regularly attending classes are exempt from the law."

Nine employers and 58 students participate in the program, Oxley said.

Asked afterward if he would veto the bills if they reach his desk, or if he is hoping they will be defeated in the House, Hutchinson said that's "premature."

But he added: "I cannot support those bills. I cannot support the bills that alter significantly the minimum wage that was passed." He added, "we have expressed it to some of the key people as well as the chamber of commerce."

Information from this article was contributed by Andy Davis of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Photo by Democrat-Gazette file photo
Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, is shown in this file photo.
Photo by John Sykes Jr.
House Minority Leader Charles Blake of Little Rock limbers up during a break in the action Tuesday afternoon in the House chamber.

A Section on 03/14/2019

Print Headline: Governor: Arkansas voters spoke, minimum wage law should stand


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  • RBear
    March 14, 2019 at 6:14 a.m.

    "She (Lundstrum) also said the minimum wage increase will hurt small businesses and teens looking for their first jobs." However, it appears she doesn't know Arkansas labor law which grants the exemption for students to pay 85% of the minimum wage provided the employer meets the requirements under the law. The interesting part is that nowhere during the debate on this issue was that ever brought up, probably for fear it would damage their opposition to the ballot measures.
    To be clear for some issue illiterates on the right who try to equate this to the actions taken by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the issues are not the same. This was a constitutional amendment which means Gov. Hutchinson cannot override it by executive action. CA's death penalty proposition is essentially the same as legislative action. Newsom's act does not overturn it, but merely places executions on hold during his term as governor. When he leaves office, the hold can be lifted by the next governor. But those facts escape some on the right who often don't have a clue on issues.

  • tweedyboy57
    March 14, 2019 at 9:31 a.m.

    well said RBEAR. Ignorance and Apathy Make Democracy Impossible. I learned that in CIVICS in HS. I am impressed ASA did weigh in like he did. He must have read my TWEET LOL!

  • Retirednwsman
    March 14, 2019 at 9:47 a.m.

    I agree with the Gov on this one. I am sick and tired of the voters passing something, then our nitwit legislators going back and trying to change want the voters wanted.

  • Retirednwsman
    March 14, 2019 at 9:50 a.m.

    MARCH 14, 2019 AT 9:47 A.M.
    Good old autocorrect on these phones. Let me try this again..

    I agree with the Gov on this one. I am sick and tired of the voters passing something, then our nitwit legislators going back and trying to change what the voters wanted.

  • Packman
    March 14, 2019 at 10:08 a.m.

    Asa is correct.
    Hey RBear - Nah, you're wrong. Gavin Newsom told the collective will of the people to kiss his a$$. In this regard Newsom is no different than Lundstrum. Newsom said he just "couldn't sleep at night" thinking about a serial killer being wrongly executed (although it seems Newsom sleeps just fine thinking about babies being killed at birth). Taking Newsom's logic to conclusion, society can no longer impose any punishment for wrongdoing because there is always a chance, however incredibly small it may be, that someone will be wrongly convicted.
    So, here's the liberal mindset illustrated by Gavin Newsom: There's a .0001% chance the death penalty will be applied to an innocent person and that's a bad thing but there's a 100% chance an abortion will take the most vulnerable and innocent form of human life and that's a good thing. Such is the liberal mindset.
    Hey retirednwsman - Is it safe to assume you also feel the same way about Gavin Newsom sh*tting on the voters of California?

  • RBear
    March 14, 2019 at 10:15 a.m.

    Still wrong, Pack. But when you don't understand the details you'll always show ignorance. Further showing ignorance, you rattle on about completely irrelevant points. Why do you even try?
    It also appears that Ms. Lundstrum wasn't finished trying to screw over the citizens of Arkansas when she tried to block Rep. Gazaway's renter's rights bill. Is she just that bent on screwing over Arkansans? Time to look at her legislative record and point out what she actually does.

  • NoUserName
    March 14, 2019 at 10:25 a.m.

    Why is it ok to pay students 85% of what somebody else in the same job can make just because they are students?

  • ObjectiveFodder
    March 14, 2019 at 10:27 a.m.

    Smart intelligent forward thinking creative capitalist know that you get what you pay for. No competitive progressive aggressive small business proprietor will pay minimum to attract talent. But larger corporations in the unskilled service and labor industries will. Arkansaw isn’t moving forward. It’s an employer cesspool for people who settle and can’t bettet themselves elsewhere. Jesus loves enslavement.

  • Packman
    March 14, 2019 at 10:36 a.m.

    Hey RBear - You say I'm wrong without making even a feeble effort to backup what you say other than ad hominem attack. Point, game, set, match, Packman wins, again.

    March 14, 2019 at 11:11 a.m.

    This time Equal labor equal pay.Thank You ASA. OK! Now I wait for his next move to screw over the needy Arkansan's to support his base. One good thing does not make him my hero.