A Republican lawmaker who thinks businesses should have the option of offering less than the state’s minimum wage to full-time students heard from supporters and opponents of his controversial bill Monday.
The bill would allow businesses to pay the lower federal minimum wage to part-time workers younger than 22 if they also are full-time students.
Opponents say the bill flies in the face of the minimum-wage increases Arizona voters approved in 2016.
House Bill 2523 passed a committee on a 4-3 party-line vote with Democrats opposing the measure.
Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert explained his bill Monday in the Regulatory Affairs Committee, where he serves as chairman.
He said it was needed because some businesses can’t afford to hire part-time workers due to the minimum wage requirements, so they employ fewer people than they would with the ability to pay lower wages.
“I really did take this effort on to try to create a little bit of a relief valve if you will for people who are unable to get part-time employment because of what has become a barrier to entry,” Grantham said.
“I know this is going to be a little bit of a controversial bill,” he said, adding that the change would lead to more jobs.
“This gives a restaurant or a bar … now they can actually afford to hire somebody,” he said.
Voters approved higher state wages
Proposition 206, the Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act, passed easily in November 2016, garnering 59 percent of the votes cast, andraising that the state’s minimum wage to $12 next year from $8.05 in 2016. It rose to $10 in 2017, $10.50 in 2018 and $11 this year.
It also required a minimum amount of paid sick leave beginning in July 2017 — generally starting at five days off each year for workers at larger employers.
The state’s minimum wage for waiters, bartenders, valets, hair stylists and other tipped employees is less, provided these workers earn at least the higher minimum for all hours that they work.
The federal minimum is $7.25 an hour and still used in 21 states.
Grantham’s bill would let businesses pay the federal minimum wage and negotiate other work arrangements with people younger than 22, who are working on a “casual basis” and who are enrolled as full-time students.
The bill defines “casual basis” as people who work no more than 20 hours a week or who might work more than 20 hours a week but not regularly or only for intermittent periods.
As many as 22 states and the District of Columbia could see increases to their minimum wages in 2019, according to the National Employment Law Project.
Supporters say bill is legal
A variety of groups oppose it, including Living United for Change in Arizona, a progressive group that advocated for Prop. 206.
Opponents say it violates the the state Voter Protection Act, which prohibits lawmakers from changing voter-approved ballot initiatives unless the change furthers the intent.
The bill has the support of conservative think tanks, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and various chambers of commerce, including in Flagstaff, where voters in 2016 approved a minimum wage of $12 and $9 for tipped employees, with increases set for the next few years.
Jon Riches, director of national litigation for the Goldwater Institute, said the bill would not violate the Voter Protection Act because it doesn’t change the minimum-wage increases voters approved in 2016. It simply creates a new classification of workers “which the Legislature is authorized to do.”
He also said that the 2016 Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act was targeting people who work 40 hours a week who had families, and that most college students don’t have families.
That line of argument drew rebukes from opponents of the bill, who said that college students can both contribute financially to their family households if they still live with their parents and also might have children of their own to support.
Marilyn Rodriguez, a representative of Living United for Change in Arizona, told the lawmakers that when she went to Arizona State University she worked two jobs while supporting a younger sibling.
She said she taught marching band at a high school in the mornings and worked as a server in the evenings.
“Had this law been in effect, there’s no way I could survive on this amount without taking out an additional loan to pay for school,” the lobbyist said.
Grantham suggested that with the recent hike in the state minimum wage, some of the jobs she held might no longer exist.
He said he modeled the exceptions to the state minimum wage after exemptions to the federal minimum that date back to the 1930s.
“That doesn’t mean it fits everybody’s profile or (those) who have had to live through tough times,” he said.
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