A local state senator has sponsored two bills that would add caveats to the minimum wage increase Arkansas voters passed in November.
District 8 state Sen. Mat Pitsch, R-Fort Smith, said he is the Senate sponsor on House bills 1752 and 1753, which if passed would create exemptions for the $11 minimum wage for nonprofits, small entrepreneurs and others. The minimum wage increased from $8.50 an hour to $9.25 and will reach the full $11 in 2021.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson earlier in March openly opposed measures to scale back the minimum wage hike, saying it was "the will of the people" and that he doesn't believe "it should be changed by legislative enactment." Pitsch on Friday said state representatives are "having a major war" over the two bills, which need two-thirds of the vote to pass to the Senate.
"I’ve learned lots of new cuss words in the last three weeks being on this bill, because people are pretty adamant about it," Pitsch said.
Though Pitsch said he also has reservations in light of the vote, he said he's afraid some of the organizations exempted in the proposed legislation will suffer if the legislation isn't passed. He also said he believes businesses will have to raise wages across the board with the increase.
Pitsch also said the bill could create difficult situations for employers with qualified workers who make around that much already.
“If (a qualified person) is at $11.75, would you keep that person, or would you keep a high school kid?" Pitsch said. "You’ve got all of these decisions that you as a business owner now have because someone has changed where the entry point is."
When asked about the minimum wage increase in reference to the decrease of the dollar value, Pitsch said "he would have to look" at the situation. However, he also said the economy is strong, which helped him make his decision.
"An economy is a supply-and-demand-type scenario. There’s a plus and a minus, and I think we’re in a pretty strong economy right now. Our unemployment for over a year has been at a threshold of four and a half," Pitsch said. "If you want a job and you want to move up at an unemployment rate there, companies are desperately trying to find employees."