Arkansas Supreme Court: Proposal to gradually raise state's minimum wage can remain on ballot

Arkansas' highest court ruled Monday that a proposal to gradually raise the state's minimum wage can remain on the November ballot.

The Arkansas Supreme Court decision denied a Little Rock businessman's effort to block a ballot question that will ask voters to raise the state's minimum hourly wage from $6.25 to $8.50 by 2017. Arkansas is one of the few states with a minimum wage below the federal level of $7.25 an hour.

Early voting for the election began Oct. 20.

The businessman, Jackson T. Stephens Jr., had challenged the deadline that the state used to accept petitions for the proposal. He also argued that the signatures submitted by supporters were invalid.

Democrats have been pushing the wage increase, 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.

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.

Earlier this month, a special judge appointed by the Arkansas Supreme Court said enough valid signatures were submitted to put the measure on the ballot. But Stephens' attorneys disagreed, saying that about 8,500 names should've been tossed because a notary's signature had been forged.

Stephens had also argued that the petitions for the measure should have been submitted by July 4, rather than the July 7 deadline, but the court had ruled in a separate case that the state had the authority to extend the deadline if it fell on a holiday.

Stephens is board chairman of the conservative Club for Growth, and his father, Jackson T. Stephens Sr., co-founded the investment firm Stephens Inc.