House lawyer: Student employment bill conflicts with AZ’s minimum wage law

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    A bill to pay some students less than the state’s minimum wage conflicts with Arizona’s voter-approved minimum wage statute and is thus unconstitutional, a staff attorney told  the House Rules Committee on Monday.

    House Rules attorney Tim Fleming said because the state’s minimum wage law is voter-protected, House Bill 2523 needs an amendment to require a supermajority vote (three-fourths from each chamber) for its passage.

    “We believe that, because the bill talks about carving out youth employees to enable them to be paid something than less than the state’s minimum wage, that seems to be in conflict with what the voters had enacted,” Fleming said. He recommended an amendment be added on the House floor.

    The committee cleared the bill for floor debate on a 5-3 vote, with Republicans voting yes and Democrats voting no

    Voters in 2016 approved Proposition 206, tilted Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act, which set Arizona’s minimum hourly wage at $11 for 2019 and $12 for 2020. Voter-approved measures have protections so legislators don’t undermine the will of the public.

    HB2523, sponsored by Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, allows employers to pay the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, to full-time students younger than 22 years who work fewer than 20 hours a week or for intermittent periods.

    The bill passed Feb. 12 on a party-line vote in the House Regulatory Affairs Committee, which Grantham chairs. Republicans supported the measure and Democrats opposed it.

    Opponents of the bill said excluding some students from the state’s minimum wage goes against the intent of Prop. 206, while Grantham said his goal is to increase youth employment by reducing their wages and therefore making it easier for employers to hire them.

    Lawmakers can amend voter-approved laws if their proposals both further the purpose of the initial measure and get a three-fourths vote in the House and Senate.

    Fleming explained there are valid arguments for both sides on whether Grantham’s bill advances or not the purpose of the Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act.

    “I can understand that it can be argued both ways,” he said. “There are concerns and risks about this measure, but I think that no matter what happens, I believe that your Rules counsel is on pretty solid ground in recommending that the bill be amended to put a voter protection, super-majority enactment clause on it.”

    During the House Regulatory Affairs Committee hearing, John Riches, an attorney for the libertarian Goldwater Institute, said Grantham’s proposal isn’t in conflict with Prop. 206 because it doesn’t change the minimum wage statute.

    Fleming rejected this view.

    “We think that the case law is broader than that in terms of the implications,” he said.

    Several business groups, including the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which opposed Prop. 206, are backing Grantham’s bill.

    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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