Victory for the people. In a brief order today the Arkansas Supreme Court granted attorney David Couch’s request for an order requiring Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to approve his proposed initiated act to raise the minimum wage or submit a more acceptable version within three days.
Rutledge has refused 70 of 70 requests for ballot initiatives since 2016. She’s claimed they were unclear and said they were so unclear that she couldn’t fix them. She argued it was wholly in her discretion to decide on the sufficiency of the ballot titles.
Couch, who’d submitted a proposal for an increase in the minimum wage virtually identical to one approved for the ballot and adopted a couple of years ago, argued that the state law required Rutledge to approve or improve ballot submissions within three days. To do otherwise violates the Arkansas Constitution’s provision of initiative power to the people.
Couch’s motion was approved in an unsigned order. Justices Rhonda Wood and Shawn Womack, political allies as long-time Republicans of the attorney general, dissented from the order.
The decision today would appear to open the door to an alternative to Alex Gray, an attorney with hearings scheduled in both state and federal court this week and next on Rutledge’s refusal of petitions on which he’s worked that would address questions about the state’s sovereign immunity provision, expanded casino gambling
Time is short. Any proposals approved for the ballot must be published by June 6. Then petitioners will have until July 6 to gather enough signatures of registered voters to get on the ballot. A new law makes it harder to use paid canvassers for such drives.
A constitutional amendment requires 84,859 signatures. An initiated act takes 67,887.
Couch would raise the minimum wage from $8.50 an hour to $12 in stages by 2022.