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Minimum Wage Hike Goes to Arkansas Voters

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CN) - The Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday rejected a challenge to a proposed ballot amendment increasing the state's minimum wage from $6.25 to $8.50 an hour by 2017.

The measure will remain on the Nov. 4 general election ballot and votes already cast during early voting will be counted.

Arkansas, Georgia and Wyoming are the only states in the country with a lower minimum wage than the $7.25 federal minimum. Georgia and Wyoming's minimum wage is $5.15 per hour.

The ruling throws out a challenge by Little Rock businessman Jackson Thomas Stephens Jr., who filed a lawsuit disputing the validity of signatures collected by the initiative's sponsor, Give Arkansas A Raise Now.

In July, Secretary of State Mark Martin gave the group 30 days to collect additional signatures from registered Arkansas voters after 3,000 of the 64,133 it submitted were found to be invalid. The group needed to collect 62,507 signatures for the measure to appear on the ballot.

The group submitted the additional signatures on Aug. 18 and the Secretary of State's Office certified Give Arkansas A Raise Now's proposed act as Issue No. 5 on the ballot. The group collected "no fewer than 70,074 valid signatures" - far more than the required 62,507.

In his September complaint, Stephens claimed that the Secretary of State's Office counted defective signatures and that Give Arkansas A Raise Now did not qualify for the 30-day extension to gather additional signatures.

"Stephens maintains that GARN's petition was not facially valid for purposes of obtaining a thirty-day cure period since it did not contain the requisite number of signatures. He contends that because the notary signatures on certain petition parts had been forged, the petition was not facially valid, which he claims was required in order to obtain a thirty-day cure period," the ruling says of Stephen's complaint.

"Stephens avers that if the signatures on the forged petition parts had been properly excluded from the July 7 count, GARN would have lacked the requisite number of signatures to entitle it to a thirty-day cure period, and GARN's proposed initiated act fails for want of initiation," the court wrote.

But a special master appointed by the court found that the group qualified for the 30-day cure period because the petitions contained enough valid signatures to meet the statewide and 15-county requirement.

The Arkansas Supreme court rejected the complaint on Monday.

If approved by voters next week, the $6.25 hourly minimum wage would increase to $7.50 per hour on Jan. 1; $8.00 an hour in January 2016; and a final raise to $8.50 per hour on Jan. 1, 2017.

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