Attorney General Leslie Rutledge rejected a proposed ballot initiative yesterday from David Couch to raise the minimum wage to $12 and allow local governments to set higher minimum wages.
Voters previously raised the state’s minimum wage via a ballot initiative in 2014, bumping it from $6.25 to $8.50
The $12 proposal is one of two possible proposals for the minimum wage drafted by Couch, the Little Rock attorney who has worked on a number of successful ballot initiatives (he is communicating with allies to decide how aggressively they want to push the issue if they can get it on the ballot). Couch has also submitted a separate proposed ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $11, which does not include the provision to allow local governments to go further. Rutledge rejected that proposal a little more than a week ago.
A protracted back-and-forth to win approval from the attorney general for ballot measures has been typical. The rejection of the $11 wage proposal, however, was outrageous: The language in these proposed ballot initiative was identical to the language in the previous minimum wage initiative — which was not only approved by the previous attorney general, but ratified overwhelmingly by voters. Rutledge creatively found some nits to pick by insisting that voters wouldn’t understand what the change to the minimum wage meant, apparently under the assumption that the people of Arkansas have gotten dumber in the last four years.
Perhaps Rutledge has a grave concern that the ballot initiative meticulously walks through every exception and technicality to the state minimum wage law in Title 11, Chapter 4, Subchapter 2 of the Arkansas Code. On the other hand, perhaps she is foot dragging on an initiative she would rather not see on the ballot. I report, you decide.
Her rejection of the $12 proposal reiterates the same complaints lodged against Couch’s previous proposal and also states that the language does not sufficiently explain the option for local governments to set a higher wage.
To proceed, a ballot measure first needs to be certified by the attorney general. At that point, the initiative would need to collect around 85,000 signatures of registered voters by July to make it on the ballot in November.
Rutledge has rejected 63 proposed ballot titles this election cycle and not accepted a single one. Couch is resubmitting both of the minimum wage proposals and considering legal action against Rutledge for what he characterizes as potentially unconstitutional obstruction. Regarding her rejection last month of yet another ballot title, related to congressional redistricting, Couch said, “You can’t use this statute as a pretext to stymie or block someone’s constitutional right to petition.”
Here is the proposal rejected yesterday by Rutledge:
An Act to Increase the Arkansas Minimum Wage and to Allow Counties, Cities and Towns the Option to Enact and Enforce a Higher Local Minimum Wage
An Act to amend the Arkansas Code concerning the State minimum wage; the Act would raise the current State minimum wage from eight dollars and fifty cents ($8.50) per hour to nine dollars and twenty-five cents ($9.25) per hour on January 1, 2019, to ten dollars ($10.00) per hour on January 1, 2020, to eleven dollars ($11.00) per hour on January 1, 2021, and to twelve dollars ($12.00) per hour on January 1, 2022; and allowing, [sic] counties, cities and towns in the State to adopt and enforce a higher local minimum wage.