Ballinger bill adds exemptions to minimum wage law

Friday, January 18, 2019

By Samantha Jones

State Sen. Bob Ballinger of Berryville on Wednesday introduced a bill that would create additional exemptions to the state’s minimum wage law.

SB 115, co-sponsored by state Rep. Frances Cavenaugh (R-Walnut Ridge), would exempt individuals under the age of 18 from being covered by the state’s minimum wage law, as well as employees of public and private educational institutions ranging from preschool to college, employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees and nonprofit organizations.

The move comes less than a month after the effective date of a minimum wage increase that was overwhelmingly approved by voters statewide in November. Under that initiated act, Arkansas’ minimum wage increased from $8.50 to $9.25 an hour on Jan. 1. It will increase to $10 an hour in 2020 and $11 an hour in 2021.

Ballinger, a Republican who began his first term in the state Senate on Monday after three terms in the state House of Representatives, said his bill is not an attempt to circumvent the initiated act but instead is intended to protect small businesses, school districts and others that would be harmed by the minimum wage increase.

“It’s basically a response to listening to people in my district,” he said. “I had a small business owner in Berryville who was really concerned that the change in the minimum wage would put her out of business and then spoke with one of the superintendents in my district –– rural superintendent –– who talked about how she’s going to have to lay off some workers because of the fact that they’re just not going to have the money.”

The minimum wage increase also could have a negative impact on young workers, Ballinger said, whose employers can’t afford to pay them more.

“What you have is places where young people are working or where it’s not the primary income in the home,” he said. “They’re just working to get a few hours. They love the job so they’re willing to do that but at $11 an hour it would be hard for a small business –– it would be hard for a ministry, school or nonprofit –– to do that. In our district, $9 an hour and $10 an hour is a nice starting wage and those positions are getting eliminated by this amendment.”

His bill, Ballinger said, addresses unintended consequences of the minimum wage increase.

“The voters didn’t want to put mom and pops out of business,” he said. “The voters didn’t want to shut down boys and girls clubs and ministries and nonprofits. It’s consistent with the will of the voter to make it where we can transition to this increased minimum wage in a way that’s not going to hurt small businesses and ministries.”

In fact, Ballinger said, his bill “is actually not even touching the initiated act.”

“It’s going back and amending the law that had been originally put in place and making some changes there,” he said. “There are already exceptions written into the original law. It’s just adding some exceptions to provide some relief to small business and ministries and just to give kids an opportunity to go to work. … A lot of places are not going to hire a 16-year-old at $11 an hour. They couldn’t afford to even if they wanted to.”

If Ballinger’s bill is adopted and becomes law, employees who fall under the exemptions laid out in SB115 would be covered only by the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Arkansas voters approved the minimum wage increase by a wide margin, with 68.4 percent voting in favor of the initiated act in the November election. Ballinger’s district includes all or a portion of seven Northwest Arkansas counties. In those counties, 69.8 percent voted in favor of the increase. In Carroll County, the increase was approved by 73.5 percent of voters.

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