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The Student Vote

A group of Northern Arizona University students walk into the Skydome to vote on election day.

Two years after voters approved a bill to raise the statewide minimum wage, the fight continues over just how high the minimum wage should be in Arizona.

Travis Grantham, who represents Arizona’s District 12 in the State House of Representatives, has introduced a bill that would in effect lower the minimum wage for college students across the state.

Aimed at encouraging youth employment, House Bill 2523 would allow employers to pay the federal minimum wage to employees who are between the ages of 18 and 22, are working only part-time or on a “casual basis,” and are enrolled full-time in classes.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

The bill was only introduced last week and is still very early on in the process, having not yet been assigned to a committee. But the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce has thrown their support behind the measure, saying it will encourage much needed job opportunities for college students and provide businesses with flexibility, according to Joe Galli, the chamber’s Senior Adviser for Public Policy.

“We think it’s great for students and young people,” Galli said, adding that the chamber has heard a lot of support for such a bill from some of their member businesses.

Galli said the local minimum wage laws have made it more difficult for students to find work and HB 2523 is a way to make young people more competitive when competing for jobs and an opportunity to get young people more involved in the local economy.

Chamber President & CEO Julie Pastrick agreed, calling the measure a boon for Flagstaff’s young people.

“It’s very exciting that our Arizona legislators recognize the labor market is often skewed towards higher-paid, more-experienced workers and as a result, job opportunities for young people are fading away from our small business family,” Pastrick said in a press release.

Galli said the chamber is supportive of efforts to get the bill passed this session and hopes Legislative District 6 Representative Bob Thorpe may co-sponsor the bill.

For his part, Thorpe said he is supportive of the legislation as a way to “help provide more employment opportunities for our full-time university and college students.”

“I have listened to interviews of NAU students describing how difficult it is to find employment within Flagstaff due to its raising minimum wages,” Thorpe said. “Our students need a means for both paying for their education and gaining practical real world experience from having employment opportunities.”

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Thorpe said he has not spoken to many of his fellow legislators about the bill, but expects most of the Republican members to be in support.

He admitted, however, that the bill may run into issues with Arizona’s voter protection act. The act prevents the legislator or governor from changing laws passed by voters through the citizen initiative such as Prop 206, which voters passed in 2016 and raised the state's minimum wage.

And this may be a problem for the bill, according to Joe Bader with the group Flagstaff Needs a Raise, which successfully pushed for a higher minimum wage in Flagstaff in 2016 and was able to defend the law during the past election.

Bader said there were no carve-outs included in Prop 206’s language that legislatures could use as precedent, so it is likely the only way for the measure to pass is if it is put on the ballot in 2020.

“Voters rejected the arguments made by the chamber during the past two elections,” Bader said. “There’s no popular support for carve-outs.”

Otherwise, Bader called the prospect of lowering the minimum wage for students aged 18 to 22 who work part time ridiculous and said the federal minimum wage is intolerable.

Bader added that he is not surprised that both state legislatures and the local chamber are trying to limit the new state and local minimum wage laws.

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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