District 5 Sen. Bob Ballinger (R-Berryville) filed an amendment last week to his minimum wage bill that would add exemptions from the state law for convicted felons and workers with developmental disabilities; however, he told media outlets late last week that he would be withdrawing the exemption for the disabled persons.
Ballinger filed Senate Bill 115 earlier this year, which would exempt certain workers from the voter-approved state minimum wage law that will increase the state's minimum wage to $11 per hour by 2021. Those exempted through Ballinger's bill, if it's approved, would be set back to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
Ballinger's original bill calls for exemptions for workers under the age of 18; employees of educational institutions and nonprofit organizations; and businesses with less than 50 employees. With his amendment filed last week, Ballinger removed the exemption for public school employees and reduced the threshold of employees at an exempted small business from 50 employees to 25. He also added the exemptions for convicted felons and the developmentally disabled, but withdrew the exemption for the developmentally disabled after the amendment failed to gain support from advocacy groups.
Ballinger said via email on Tuesday that the bill is currently on the deferred list for the Senate's Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee. When asked why he filed the new exemptions, he stated, "to create opportunities for people to go to work and have a job."
Ballinger said in a previous interview that he filed the bill “in response to concerns expressed by small business owners, charities and schools” in his district “who face shutting down and laying people off.” He also argued that the bill would be advantageous for those “who have burned a lot of bridges,” such as addicts.
“We have a large population of addicts – some of whom I have spent a lot of time working with – who have burned a lot of bridges,” Ballinger said. “Because of their past, they are not employable at $11. This would provide the opportunity for an employer to take a chance on a person who otherwise could not get a job.”
Regarding the exemption for minors, Ballinger referenced to the work experience they would receive in exchange for an employment opportunity.
“Many of the residents of the county learn to work at small businesses during high school,” he said. “This will give the 16-year-old an opportunity to gain work experience at a rate that small businesses can afford to pay.”
Arkansas voters approved a ballot issue in November to gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $11/hour by 2021. On Jan. 1, 2019, the first step of the increase was implemented, with the state’s minimum wage raising from $8.50/hour to $9.25/hour. In Madison County, Issue 5 – the ballot measure to increase the minimum wage – was passed with 66 percent of voters approving the increase.