- Associated Press - Monday, September 22, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A lawsuit filed before the Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday is seeking to block from the November ballot a proposal to gradually raise the state’s minimum wage.

The lawsuit, which lists Jackson Thomas Stevens Jr. of Pulaski County as its plaintiff, argued that the state used the wrong deadline in accepting petitions for the proposed wage hike measure and is challenging the validity of the signatures submitted.

Election officials earlier this month certified the proposal, which would raise Arkansas’ minimum wage from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 by 2017, ruling supporters had turned in more than the 62,507 signatures from registered voters needed to qualify.

A number was not listed for Stevens. David Sterling, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, did not immediately return a call Monday night. Sterling ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for attorney general earlier this year.

The head of the group campaigning for the minimum wage hike said he was still reviewing the lawsuit.

“We’re still looking at it and still believe strongly in letting the people of Arkansas vote on this measure,” said Steve Copley, chairman of Give Arkansas a Raise Now.

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Mark Martin said officials would defend the decision to place the measure on the ballot.

“The minimum wage measure was placed on the ballot by the people of Arkansas. They went through the proper procedures to get it on the ballot,” spokeswoman Laura Labay said. “That is to be respected and defended and that is what we intend to do.”

The lawsuit makes the same argument about the petition deadline as a challenge against a separate ballot measure that would legalize alcohol sales in all 75 Arkansas counties. Both lawsuits argue the petitions should have been submitted four months before the Nov. 4 election, or July 4, rather than the July 7 deadline used by the state.

Justices are set to hear oral arguments Oct. 9 in the lawsuit over the alcohol sales measure.

The lawsuit over the wage hike proposal also asks the court to appoint a master to review evidence regarding the signatures and make recommendations to the court.

Democrats have been pushing the wage increase and touting it as a way to boost turnout in the November election. The party’s top candidates, including Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and gubernatorial nominee Mike Ross, endorsed the measure earlier this year and the state party adopted the increase as part of its platform over the summer.

Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, who is trying to unseat Pryor, and GOP gubernatorial nominee Asa Hutchinson both said they planned to vote for the measure after it was certified for the November ballot.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo


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