PHOENIX (AP) - Employers would be able to pay full-time students less than Arizona's minimum wage under legislation given preliminary approval in the state House on Wednesday.
The bill, which is likely to be challenged in court if it becomes law, seeks to get around the 2016 ballot measure that raised the minimum wage in phases to $12 per hour in 2020.
Republican Rep. Travis Grantham's measure would allow businesses to pay the federal minimum wage of $7.25 to full-time students up to age 22 working up to 20 hours per week. He said it would help combat youth unemployment and help businesses boost their workforce for low-skilled tasks for which they can't afford to pay people $12 an hour.
"It affords the opportunity for people who currently don't have jobs to get jobs," Grantham said.
Democrats said it's an unconstitutional violation of the voter initiative that would allow employers to pay unequal wages for equal work, discourage schooling and encourage employers to cut older workers in favor of students who could be paid less.
"I don't know one student who says they would want to get paid $4 less than that they currently would have to be paid," said Rep. Reginald Bolding, a Phoenix Democrat.
Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said young people are already struggling with crushing student debt, low wages and a regressive tax system that makes it hard for them to build wealth, buy a house or save for retirement.
"We are in a world of hurt with our millennials as it is," Epstein said.
Lawmakers signaled support in a 30-29 vote but still must formally pass the measure before sending it to the Senate.
Arizona law requires support from three-fourths of lawmakers to change a voter-backed initiative. Grantham said his bill doesn't require the supermajority because it changes a section of state law that deals with child labor, not wages - an argument Democrats found dubious.
Proposition 206, the 2016 initiative raising the minimum wage passed in a 58-42 vote, stunning Arizona's influential business lobby. Since then, the GOP-controlled Legislature has aggressively tightened the rules to qualify initiatives for the ballot.
Lawmakers have a history of trying to get around voter initiatives on the minimum wage. Earlier this year, a state appellate court said a 2006 minimum wage initiative prevents the Legislature from blocking local governments from requiring employers to provide additional benefits to workers.