Senate panel shelves bill to cut student wages, at least for now

    High school and college students pose for a photo outside the Senate building. They gathered at the Capitol to oppose a bill that would allow businesses to pay student workers less than the minimum wage. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

    A bill to pay some students less than the state’s minimum wage stalled in the Senate this week.

    House Bill 2523, sponsored by Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, was held from its scheduled hearing Thursday in the Senate Commerce Committee. Sen. Michelle Ugent-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who chairs the committee, didn’t explain why the measure wasn’t heard. It is unclear if the committee will take up the bill at a later date.

    The proposal would allow businesses to pay full-time students under age 22 who work part-time or for intermittent periods only the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour. Arizona’s minimum wage is currently $11 and will rise to $12 next year.

    Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, prepared an amendment to require HB2523 to get a three-fourths supermajority vote in order to pass. Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, had introduced the same amendment when the House of Representatives took up the matter last month, but it failed. The House passed the measure on a partisan line vote, with Republicans in favor and Democrats in opposition.

    A House lawyer had told lawmakers the bill needed the amendment requiring a three-fourths vote because it conflicts with the state’s minimum wage statute, which voters approved in 2016. Lawmakers can change voter-approved laws if the change both furthers the purpose of the initial measure and gets a three-fourths vote in the House and Senate.

    The Senate Commerce Committee still has two weeks to consider HB2523.

    Grantham has said HB2523 is a pro-labor initiative aimed at youth and that it would benefit his child. Opponents call the proposal discriminatory and unconstitutional.

    ‘Same work. Same pay’

    After Ugenti-Rita announced that HB2523 wouldn’t be heard as planned, about 70 people formed a circle outside the Senate building. Among them were youth and high school and college students who had planned to testify against Grantham’s proposal and share their stories with the committee.

    Aaron Garcia, 22, stood in the middle of the circle as he read from a statement. Garcia said he enlisted in the National Guard recently and called on lawmakers to turn down HB2523.

    “I find it odd that my state supports me when I sing up to put my life on the line, but doesn’t deem me worthy to earn the state wage level,” Garcia said. “As a veteran, student and young person, I ask my state representatives to follow the lead of so many young veterans to do what is best for our state and our residents, and not what is best for business.”

    Wearing a blue Westwood High School sweatshirt, Lesly Perez got emotional as she shared her story. The 18-year-old said her mom has always worked cleaning houses. Perez works to save money to attend Arizona State University in August. If HB2523 passes, she’ll have to work more to afford college expenses, and that would hurt her educational goals, she said.

    “Student workers are the future of this state,” she said.

    The group later loudly chanted, “Same work! Same pay!”

    Community groups including Living United for Change Arizona, Mi Familia Vota, the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, Puente, the AFL-CIO and the Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence also gathered Thursday morning.

    Laura Gómez
    Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.

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