An Arkansas legislator has proposed an amendment to a bill that would add exceptions to Arkansas’s minimum wage requirements.
Senate Bill 115 would exempt employers from paying minimum wage to people under 18, people convicted of a felony or people with a developmental disability.
It comes after Arkansas voters passed a minimum wage increase in November 2018 with 68% approval. By 2021, minimum wage will be $11 per hour in Arkansas. The increase started in 2019, when it was upped to $9.25.
“I have heard from many of my constituents who have concerns about the increase,” Sen. Bob Ballinger, author of SB115, said.
If passed through the legislature, the bill would also exempt non-profits and businesses with fewer than 25 employees from paying state minimum wage.
“What the goal is in this legislation is to provide a bit of a bridge, a transition into it,” Ballinger said. “To provide some relief for the small businesses, to provide some relief for ministries, non-profits so they don't have to lay people off, so they don't have to shut down.”
Leaders of Arkansans for a Fair Wage. the group that spearheaded the increased minimum wage campaign. calls the proposal “horrible policy for Arkansas.”
“It puts Arkansas in a really bad light on the national stage as well – saying that we want to carve out people with developmental disabilities, people who are maybe working on a second chance after making a bad decision or young workers who are trying to get ahead,” Arkansans For a Fair Wage campaign manager Kristin Foster said.
Ballinger, a Republican from Berryville, said the amendment is an effort to protect opportunities for people as employers adjust to deal with the effects of increased minimum wage.
“[Employers are] going to be pinched really hard when it comes to manpower, when it comes to the payroll, so they won’t be nearly as charitable about hiring somebody that otherwise maybe they wouldn’t,” Ballinger said.
Disability Rights Arkansas openly disagreed with the amendment. Following conversations with its executive director, Sen. Ballinger said he plans to remove the developmental disability exemption from the bill.
Two separate bills filed in the House of Representative this week propose similar minimum wage exemptions.
House Bill 1752, sponsored by Rep. Robin Lundstrum and Sen. Mathew Pitsch, would exempt businesses with fewer than 25 employees and non-profits with a budget of less than $1 million from paying minimum wage. An exemption would also be created for private nonprofit developmental service providers whose operations are primarily funded by state or federal reimbursement, or both, on a fee-for-service schedule.
House Bill 1753 proposes minimum wage exemptions for high school and college students under 21 years old.