LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A proposal that would exempt some workers and employers from the state’s new minimum wage law makes a comeback at the Arkansas Capitol.
After Senate Bill 115 was moved to the deferred list earlier this session, its sponsor, St. Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Berryville, brought it back this week with several amendments.
The original bill would exempt workers who are 18 and younger and employers like schools, nonprofits and those with fewer than 50 employees.
The legislation as amended would still exempt workers younger than 18 but would also add two new categories of employees who could be paid less than the state’s current minimum wage of $9.25/hour: those convicted of a felony and people with developmental disabilities.
Ballinger said he made the change so these groups could keep their jobs.
“Frankly, the employer is giving them the job not even necessarily for what they can produce, although that’s a huge benefit, but giving them that job as a public service and with that person just enjoying the opportunity for extra cash,” Ballinger said. “At $11 an hour, those are going away. That just breaks my heart.”
The amended version of the bill would remove the exemption for schools but allow employers with fewer than 25 employees, including nonprofits, to pay them less than the minimum wage.
Ballinger said he could run the bill as soon as next week.
Arkansans for a Fair Wage, the campaign that backed the 2018 minimum wage ballot initiative, spoke out against the legislation.
“It is shameful that Senator Ballinger would seek to put increased corporate profits and CEO pay ahead of thousands of Arkansas families who are struggling to put food on the table,” said Kristin Foster, the campaign manager, in a statement. “Families with minimum wage workers often count on contributions from every family member just to make ends meet. The idea that so many vulnerable workers would be forced back to a poverty wage of $7.25/hour while corporations are making record profits, is not only immoral, it’s bad for Arkansas’ economy.”
The group argues Arkansas voters approved the wage hikes in 2018 and 2014 by nearly 70 percent of the vote.
Minimum wage workers got a raise Jan. 1. After the boost from $8.50/hour to $9.25/hour in 2019, the state wage increases to $10/hour in 2020 then $11/hour in 2021.