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Arkansas Supreme Court rejects tort reform, approves minimum wage measure for ballot

The Arkansas Supreme Court (Photo: KATV)

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday rejected one proposed amendment and approved another for the ballot this November.

Issue One was thrown out by the court. It would have limited punitive damages in lawsuits involving serious injury or death, which ultimately would put a cap on how much lawyers can collect in fees.

Justices upheld a state judge's ruling that the ballot measure limiting civil lawsuit damages unconstitutionally combined separate proposals. The measure also would have given the Legislature control over court rules in the state.

Issue One will still show on the ballots since they have already been printed, election officials will not count the votes.

The Arkansas Supreme Court approved a separate amendment for the ballot Thursday. Issue Five seeks to increase minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2021. Justices rejected a lawsuit trying to disqualify the proposal. Opponents of the proposal had challenged some of the signatures submitted for the initiative.

A Talk Business and Politics poll published in September showed 60 percent of Arkansans support increasing the state's minimum wage.

Shortly after the court's ruling, Randy Zook, chair of Arkansans for a Strong Economy and president of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, issued a statement.

"We are disappointed with today’s decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court to leave Issue 5 on the November ballot, despite proponents’ sloppy petition effort," Zook said. "Our minimum wage is already higher than all of our surrounding states. If it passes, this measure will be detrimental to our state’s economy, costing Arkansas jobs, increasing prices for Arkansas consumers, and ultimately hurting many Arkansas workers."

Meanwhile, Arkansas for a Fair Wage, which was hoping to increase the minimum wage, says it is pleased with the ruling.

"It’s a great day for Arkansas voters," said Kristin Foster, Campaign Manager of Arkansans for a Fair Wage. "The Arkansas Supreme Court rightly decided to honor the will of more than 80,000 voters who petitioned to add Issue 5 to the ballot this year. Our proposal to gradually raise the minimum wage $11 an hour by 2021 will benefit 1 in 4 hard-working Arkansans. Gradually raising the wage is overwhelmingly popular across Arkansas. It’s a common-sense solution that will put more money in the hands of hard-working families and small businesses who rely on consumer demand and boost our state’s economy. We are grateful that the Supreme Court has reaffirmed that it should be up to Arkansas voters, not the Chamber of Commerce, to decide on raising the wage in November."

The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce had earlier sued Arkansas for a Fair Wage, but a judge in September ruled in favor of Issue 5. This issue was then pushed to the Arkansas Supreme Court to make a final decision on whether to keep or remove it from ballot.

Early voting begins for the November midterm election on Monday.

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