A proposed ballot initiative that would raise the state minimum wage from $8.50 to $11 per hour has been rejected by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.
The language and title of the proposal, authored by Little Rock attorney David Couch, is almost identical to a measure he proposed in 2014 that raised the minimum wage in Arkansas from $6.25 to its current $8.50. The 2014 ballot measure was approved by then-Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, and became law with 66 percent voter approval.
“It was clear that they’re going to vote to raise the minimum wage, and it’s clear what the raises were going to be and when they were going to take effect,” Couch said. “To me it was clear, not misleading, and the voters of Arkansas knew what it meant, and they knew what it meant in 2014 when 66 percent voted in favor of it.”
Rutledge cited ambiguities in the proposal’s title and language that she says could be misleading to voters. In her opinion Thursday, Rutledge specified that the terms “employer” and “employee” are technical terms that would require further explanation. The phrase “state minimum wage,” Rutledge posited, could also lead voters to believe that every hourly wage earner in the state would receive a pay raise.
Couch agreed that misleading ballot titles should be denied, though he said no such ambiguities exist in his proposal.
“You want to have the measure written so that the voters are not, to use my word, snookered,” Couch said. “The measure can’t be designed so that when you cast a vote, thinking you’re voting yes, you’re actually voting no.”
A March 2015 state Supreme Court ruling upheld all but two provisions of a 2013 law, which made significant changes to laws regarding the ballot initiative process. A statement from Rutledge’s office cites this decision as creating a “very high bar for proposals to be determined as sufficiently clear to appear on the ballot.
“Attorney General Rutledge has made it abundantly clear that she is simply following through on her responsibility to ensure that voters fully understand what a ‘for’ or ‘against’ vote means,” the statement continued.
Couch said Rutledge’s position in regards to the state Supreme Court could explain why his latest proposal’s title was denied.
“[Rutledge] seems to think that the Supreme Court has made the standard for a ballot title more difficult, because in the last election cycle, three of the four ballot titles that she approved were challenged in the Supreme Court and the Court threw them all,” Couch said.
Along with the rejected initiative, Couch also proposed a similar minimum wage increase to $12 that would allow individual cities to set an even higher minimum wage.
In her opinion, Rutledge said she is not able to precisely determine which changes should be made to the proposed initiative for it to be approved. Couch hopes his initial, $11 proposal can be approved by Rutledge in time to gather the 85,000 signatures needed to place it on the ballot before a July 6 deadline.
“We probably need to get approval before Memorial Day,” Couch said.