Citing the desire to increase youth employment rates, Republicans in Arizona recently pushed a bill out of committee that would allow employers to pay part-time student employees less than the minimum wage — as little as two-thirds what they pay everyone else.
Tucson.com reported that Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, argued the voter-mandated minimum wage of $11 per hour is too high, keeping employers from hiring more young people and detering companies from hiring and training new employees.
“Ultimately, if this passes, I believe this will actually increase the number of jobs that are available and get more people in the workforce and help lower that youth unemployment rate,” Grantham said.
And Jon Riches of the Goldwater Institute, told members of the House Committee on Regulatory Affairs that getting someone a first job is important for character development and work ethics.
The legislation, HB 2523, would allow employers to pay workers who are under age 22, full-time students and working less than 20 hours per week as little as the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
The bill was passed out of the Republican-controlled House Committee on Regulatory Affairs after a 4-3 vote along party lines, which occured “despite questions about whether lawmakers even have the power to carve out the exception.”
Brenda Munoz Furnish of the William E. Morris Institute for Justice said the lawmakers’ action likely violates the Voter Protection Act, because the raise in minimum wage came directly from Arizona voters.
Such action by voters is protected by “a constitutional provision that bars lawmakers from tinkering with anything voters have approved.”
“The Legislature cannot and should not undermine the will of the voters,” Munoz Furnish said.
However, Republicans have argued that the will of the voters is not under attack by new bill, because while it was determined how much employers are required to pay employees, the voters did not define “employee.”
For this reason, according to Riches, lawmakers have the latitude to determine who qualifies as an employee, and Republicans have decided Arizona’s youth working part-time do not.
Rep. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, who worked to get the 2016 initiative approved, said that ignores the fiscal realities of many families.
“I come from a district of the median income being $29,000,” she said. And what that means, Terán told colleagues, is that a student who is working a part-time job while going to school is contributing to the total income of that household, just as much as an adult.
Rep. Amish Shah, D-Phoenix, also questioned why the measure was crafted to exempt part-time workers through age 21, given that the U.S. Constitution considers people to be adults at age 18.
But Republicans who support the measure believe the move is fair:
Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, said he has no problem with the Legislature tinkering with the minimum wage in this way. “It’s government’s job to protect equal opportunity,” he said. “It’s not government’s job to provide equal things.”
The bill will now go to the full House for approval.