- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 30, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - A voter initiative raising the state minimum to $12 an hour by 2020 will be on the November general election ballot, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The justices upheld a trial judge’s order rejecting a challenge to Proposition 206 because it was filed too late.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joshua Rogers ruled last week that initiative challenges must be filed within five days of qualifying signatures being filed, including weekends.

The Arizona Restaurant Association, which sued seven days after the filing, argued the law meant five business days.

The Supreme Court’s two-page decision written by Chief Justice Scott Bales said the law is clear and the Legislature could have expressly excluded weekend days but did not.

The restaurant association challenged the validity of tens of thousands of signatures among the more than 176,000 certified by the Secretary of State. Rogers threw out more than 53,000 signatures on backers’ petitions but they still count because of the late challenge. Without them, Proposition 206 would not have had the needed 150,642 signatures to make the ballot.

Restaurant Association President Steve Chucri said in a statement that he was dismayed that the measure will remain on the ballot “on a technicality.”

“Arizona’s voters and the state’s small businesses are the ones truly harmed by permitting this insufficient initiative to go to the ballot,” Chucri said.

The group backing the measure, the Arizona Healthy Working Families Initiative, said the high court decision was “another big victory for Arizona voters.”

“This ruling allows us to get on with the business of getting Arizona’s working families back in business,” campaign chairman Tomas Robles said in a statement. “We are happy the state Supreme Court saw through the petty tactics of the Arizona Restaurant Association and cleared the way for voters to decide on an initiative designed to improve the lives of our fellow citizens.”

If approved by voters, the initiative would increase the minimum wage next year to $10 an hour and then to $12 by 2020. It also would require large employers to provide five days of sick time a year and small employers three days.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce praised the association’s efforts and pledged to fight the measure in November.

“We are prepared to make our case to voters that a 50 percent increase in the minimum wage and mandated paid leave is bad for job creators and job seekers, and that it will actually hurt the hardworking Arizonans the initiative’s proponents claim to want to help,” Chamber President Glenn Hamer said in a statement.

The Supreme Court is also considering an appeal from opponents of a measure that would legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona. Opponents of Proposition 205 argue the marijuana measure’s summary leaves out important provisions, that its text and title fall short of requirements and that it lacks a legal funding mechanism.

Another Maricopa County judge last week rejected that challenge. A decision is expected this week.

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