State Politics

Idaho is one of 12 states with federal minimum wage. A ballot initiative may raise it

Volunteers gather petition signatures to add Medicaid expansion onto the November ballot

Volunteers Laurie Durocher and Paula Davis, right, gather signatures from registered voters in a Nampa neighborhood Saturday, April 7, 2018. They are looking for people in support of adding a Medicaid expansion initiative onto the November ballot.
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Volunteers Laurie Durocher and Paula Davis, right, gather signatures from registered voters in a Nampa neighborhood Saturday, April 7, 2018. They are looking for people in support of adding a Medicaid expansion initiative onto the November ballot.

A ballot initiative process is underway to increase Idaho’s minimum wage.

A Boise-based group, Idahoans for a Fair Wage, has started to organize a campaign to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour from $7.25 over four years. Idaho’s minimum is the same as the federal minimum wage, which has not changed since July 2009.

Last week, Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney cleared the group to start collecting signatures after he approved the language for the initiative, which would appear on the November 2020 ballot.

Idaho is one of 12 states that follow the federal minimum wage. Someone working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year on minimum wage would earn $58 per day, or $15,080 per year. The national poverty line for a family of two people is $16,020.

Idaho also makes some exceptions to the $7.25 minimum wage. Employers can pay new employees who are younger than 20 a training wage of $4.25 per hour for the first 90 days they are employed. They can also pay full-time high school or college students 85 percent of the minimum wage, $6.16 per hour, if they work fewer than 20 hours each week in certain conditions, such as work-study programs at colleges. The ballot initiative would eliminate these provisions.

The minimum wage for tipped employees, such as restaurant servers, is $3.35 per hour.

Proponents of the ballot initiative must gather the signatures of 55,057 registered voters — 6% of the qualified electors at the time of the November 2018 general election across 18 legislative districts — to qualify the measure for the ballot. They have until April 30, 2020, to circulate petitions for the measure.

The group is hosting a campaign kickoff on Saturday, May 25, at the Fellowship Hall of Cathedral of the Rockies, 717 N. 11th Street in Downtown Boise. It is also hosting events in May in Pocatello and Idaho Falls.

Democratic activist Rod Couch, 61, is leading the movement. Couch also helped the successful campaign to pass Medicaid expansion on the ballot last November, and he is the founder of Indivisible Boise Chapter One, which is part of the national progressive Indivisible organization whose goal is to “resist the Trump agenda.”

Couch did not respond to requests for comment via email and voicemail.

While Idaho’s minimum wage has not changed in the last decade, state lawmakers have raised the issue in recent years. In 2016, the House passed a bill that barred local governments from raising the minimum wage via ordinances or ballot initiatives.

In 2017, House Minority Leader Mathew Erpelding, a Boise Democrat, introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour within two years.

Idahoans for a Fair Wage is not the only group that aims to put an initiative on the ballot in 2020. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition also filed an initiative to legalize medical marijuana.

This year, the ballot initiative process came under the scrutiny of state legislators. Gov. Brad Little vetoed two bills that would have tightened the ballot initiative and referendum process. The bills would have made Idaho’s process the most stringent among the 26 states that allow initiatives, but they faced overwhelming public opposition at legislative committee hearings and the threat of lawsuits.

Correction: A previous version of this story cited an incorrect figure provided by the Secretary of State’s office. The ballot initiative proponents must collect 55,057 signatures.

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Kate reports on West Ada and Canyon County for the Idaho Statesman. She previously wrote for the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Providence Business News. She has been published in The Atlantic and BuzzFeed News. Kate graduated from Brown University with a degree in urban studies.
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