Nitpicking the Nitpickers: Judge Nixes Challenge to Minimum-Wage Raise Initiative on Technicality

Hundreds of protesters marching in support of a minimum wage raise in Tempe in 2015.
Hundreds of protesters marching in support of a minimum wage raise in Tempe in 2015.
Elizabeth Stuart

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging thousands of signatures gathered in support of an initiative to increase Arizona's minimum wage, clearing the way for it to appear on the ballot.

Given that it hinged on the minutiae of Arizona law concerning ballot initiatives, it was perhaps fitting that the suit got tossed on a technicality.

Judge Joshua Rogers threw out the complaint because the Arizona Restaurant Association filed it seven days after the signatures were submitted to the Secretary of State's Office, according to court documents. The law requires that any challenges be filed within five days.

Lawyers for the restaurant group, who argued unsuccessfully that the five-day rule excluded weekends and holidays, have filed an appeal with the Arizona Supreme Court. 

Attorney Roopali Desai said she was confident the plaintiffs will prevail on appeal.

The court conceded that more than 100 of the people Arizonans for Fair Wages and Healthy Families hired to collect signatures supporting a minimum-wage raise were either not authorized to do so because they had committed felonies or had not filed their paperwork correctly. 

Arizona requires paid and out-of-state circulators to register with the secretary of state. Precise rules dictate everything from the size of paper used to the format of the dates to the number of signatures included on each page. If the rules are not followed to the letter, the petitions are invalid.

Desai called on the secretary of state, who is responsible for vetting petitions, to throw out the improperly collected signatures uncovered by the lawsuit, which amounted to about 50,000. 

"Even though, ultimately, the case was dismissed, there was significant information in the ruling that lots of people submitted signatures that were, frankly, illegal," she noted. "The secretary of state could and should remove those."

As things stand, Arizonans will vote on the initiative as Proposition 206 in November.

"It's exciting," said Bill Scheel, campaign manager of Arizonans for Fair Wages and Healthy Families. 

If passed, Proposition 206 would raise Arizona's minimum per-hour wage from $8.05 to $10 by 2017 and $12 by 2020. For tipped workers, such as waitresses, wages would rise from $5.05 to $7 by 2017 and $9 by 2020. 

The initiative would also ensure workers between three and five days of earned sick leave.

Scheel has already launched a door-to-door campaign to educate voters about the initiative. The group has recruited between 50 and 100 volunteers to canvass every weekend until the vote, he said. They aim to reach 400,000 people. 

About 779,000 Arizonans, including restaurant and retail workers, would be affected by the change, he said.

"We have too many folks who have to work two or three jobs to support either themselves or their families," Scheel said. "This isn't about getting ahead. This is about keeping even." 


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