Legislation to allow employers to pay some young people less than the voter-mandated minimum wage cleared a crucial hurdle Thursday after its sponsor agreed it would not be tied to whether the worker was in school.
HB 2523 still would spell out that part-time employees who are younger than 22 would not be subject to the current requirement to pay $11 an hour. Instead, they could be paid as little as $7.25, which is the federal minimum.
But gone will be the provision sought by Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, that the sub-minimum wage would apply only to those who are full-time students.
Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, the deciding vote on the Senate Commerce Committee, said that verbiage was unacceptable. In essence, he said, it would create a situation where someone actually could earn more by quitting school.
“I do not want to de-incentivize kids to try to better their life,” he said.
In fact, Grantham told Capitol Media Services that, at Pace’s behest, he will make an even bigger change: The sub-minimum wage would apply only to those who are not supporting themselves and their families.
That was enough to get Pace’s vote and have the measure clear the Commerce Committee on a 4-3 vote. It now goes to the full Senate.
Thursday’s vote came after the Republicans who dominate the committee opted to ignore a legal memo prepared by Ken Behringer, general counsel of the nonpartisan Legislative Council, declaring that HB 2523 runs afoul of the state minimum wage proposal approved by voters in 2016.
He wrote that the plain language of that measure applies to all employees, regardless of age. And that, Behringer said, means it is subject to a constitutional provision which forbids lawmakers from tinkering with anything voters have approved.
Grantham dismissed that memo, saying he has contrary advice from a House staff attorney.
The fight is over Proposition 206 which took the state minimum wage from $8.05 an hour at the time to the current $11. It is set to go to $12 next year, with future increases tied to inflation.
Despite opposition from the business community, it was approved by voters by a margin of 58-42 percent, a larger margin than Sen. John McCain gained in his re-election against a challenge by Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick.
Grantham said the problem is that an $11 minimum means that many employers can no longer afford to hire young people for basic jobs. In essence, he said, these inexperienced workers are being priced out of jobs.
Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, agreed.
“I’m voting for this bill because I want younger people to have more opportunities,” he said.
But Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, said that’s telling only part of the story.
He said what also needs to be considered is what happens to a company that has a 23-year-old full-time worker, perhaps a new college graduate, who is earning the $11 minimum.
“If a business can hire two young people who are 22 years old to work 20 hours a week to make up for that 40 hours, I could see a situation where that 23-year-old would lose their job,” Bowie said.
But a key sticking point for some foes has been that provision which would say a full-time student working a part-time job could be paid $7.25 an hour even though someone the same age at that same job who is not in school would have to be paid $11.
Aaron Garcia, a 22-year-old full-time student at Phoenix College, told lawmakers he and his mother are the sole providers for their home. He told lawmakers he gets $14.50 an hour from the armored car company where he works 18 hours a week.
If the legislation goes through, Garcia said, his employer legally could cut his pay in half.
Pace, however, said nothing in the measure requires employers to pay less than they do now. And Pace, owner of Triton Supply, said he pays workers based on what they’re worth.
In fact, Pace said, as far as he’s concerned there should be no minimum wage at all.
That, however, is not an option. That left Pace with his twin concerns, one being that link between going to school and allowable wages and the other about whether some of the young people working part-time jobs actually are trying to support a family.
He said an amendment being crafted, which would be added when the bill reaches the Senate floor, would say the exception to the state-mandated minimum wage would apply only to “those who are dependent, without children, who are not raising their own family, who are not heads of household,” allowing them to get an entry-level job.
Grantham told Capitol Media Services after the hearing that, philosophically, he disagrees with the idea of removing the link to a sub-minimum wage to whether someone is in school. But he said he promised Pace, whose vote he needed to get the bill out of committee, that he would support language limiting the applicability of that $7.25 minimum wage “to someone who is truly that single, young individual looking for that first part-time job.”
All that, however, still leaves the question of whether the legislation – with or without the change – is constitutional.
Grantham said that, technically speaking, his proposal does not amend what voters approved in 2016. Instead, he said, it creates a new category of part-time “youth workers” who are simply not subject to the state minimum wage. What that means, he said, is lawmakers are free to make the change without running afoul of the Voter Protection Act which makes major changes to what is approved at the ballot off limits.
“This argument flies in the face of the clear language of the statute,” Behringer wrote.
“An employee is any person employed by an employer,” he said. “A part-time, casual employee falls within this broad definition.”
Behringer also noted the 2016 ballot measure does contain exceptions for people working for a parent or for babysitters who work in an employer’s home. He said if those who drafted the ballot measure had intended to exclude others they would have spelled that out, too.