LITTLE ROCK (AP) - The Arkansas Senate on Tuesday voted to raise the state minimum wage by $1.10, the first wage increase the state has seen since 1997.
By a 28-1 vote, senators approved increasing the wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.25 an hour. Sen. Jim Holt, R-Springdale, voted against the increase.
The proposal, part of a deal struck between legislative leaders and an organization pushing to put a similar increase on the Nov. 7 ballot, had gained support of the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor earlier Tuesday. The full House is expected to consider the measure Wednesday.
The Rev. Stephen Copley, chairman of the group that initiated the proposed constitutional amendment, said he was confident the bill would gain widespread support in both chambers of the Legislature.
"Our goal all along has been to raise the minimum wage and to help workers who need it the most in the state," Copley said after the House committee vote. "This was a big step for us."
Supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment, which would raise the wage to $6.15 an hour and require employers to revise the wage with inflation, reached agreement on the bill last month. They plan to pursue their proposal if the Legislature doesn't approve
the increase, which would go into effect in October.
"We're still gathering signatures until this comes to an end," Copley said.
Bill Vickery, chairman of the Arkansans Fighting to Save Our Jobs group opposed to the increase, told the representatives that raising the wage would hurt the state's smaller businesses, especially those on the border with states that do not have a higher wage.
"We'll continue to fight this up until the last round,"
Vickery said. On Monday, members of the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee said they would rather see the minimum wage increased by law than have an amount put in the state constitution. The Senate committee endorsed the $1.10 per hour increase.
The bill originally called for those in the service industry who rely on tips - such as waiters and waitresses - to be paid 50 percent of the minimum wage. But after supporters agreed to it, the bill's proponents reduced that amount to 42 percent.
Arkansas is one of several states where groups have been pushing to put a minimum wage hike on the ballot before voters. Nevada voters will consider such an increase in November, and similar petition efforts are underway in Montana, Missouri, Ohio and Arizona.
In Michigan, a minimum wage hike was signed into law that will raise the wage to $6.95 an hour in October. The proposal was signed into law and passed by that state's Republican-dominated Legislature after it became evident that a petition drive to put the issue before voters in November was likely to succeed
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia set minimum wages higher than the federal minimum of $5.15 an hour, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.