An Arkansas State Senator filed a bill Wednesday that would exempt some of them and select employers from the new minimum wage law voters passed in November.
Senate Bill 115, sponsored by St. Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Berryville, would exempt workers who are 18 and younger and employers like schools, nonprofits and those with fewer than 50 employees. St. Rep. Frances Cavanaugh, R-Walnut Ridge, is sponsoring the House version.
Ballinger said the legislation is a response to concerns from his constituents, from the owner of a restuarant to the superintendent of a rural school district, who he said did not realize the new law was going to hurt them.
After the boost from $8.50/hour to $9.25/hour Jan. 1, the state wage increases to $10/hour in 2020 then $11/hour in 2021.
Ballinger said he wants to maintain the intent of voters while also giving some relief to small businesses, schools and nonprofits, especially in rural areas like the one he represents. He argues the bill is also keeping Arkansans in mind who are recovering addicts or have a criminal history.
“When you’re paying someone $11 an hour that’s going to hurt their bottom line and make it where they can’t take that risk, they’ll pull it back,” Ballinger said. “I want people who have a criminal record to be able to find a place to work. I want people who are in recovery from an addiction and doing good to be able to find a job.”
The author of the constitutional amendment, attorney David Couch, said Ballinger’s bill guts the 2018 law and the minimum wage increase voters passed in 2014.
Couch argues both measures received nearly 70 percent of the vote.
One of Ballinger’s Democratic colleagues in the House also weighed in.
“The people of Arkansas voted overwhelmingly in support of the minimum wage in the last election,” said St. Rep. Fred Love, D-Little Rock. “Our job as legislators is to represent the people of this state and to make sure their will is carried out. While I am sensitive to the needs of small businesses, this bill is reaching too far and would go against the will of the voters. The minimum wage is good for Arkansas families and good for our economy. The legislature shouldn’t support bills that will take money out of the pockets of Arkansans.”
Rep. Love serves as the vice chair of the House City, County, Local Committee. Ballinger’s bill will begin in the Senate City, County, Local Committee and have to pass through the House committee to make it to the full House and Senate for a vote.