PHOENIX — There is a new minimum wage battle in Arizona.
House Bill 2523 would allow employers to pay below the state minimum wage of and simply pay the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to full-time students under 22 years old, who work less than 20 hours a week.
The bill, which is likely to be challenged in court if it becomes law, seeks to get around the 2016 ballot measure (Prop 206) that raises the minimum wage in increments until it reaches $12 per hour in 2020.
Students say the bill discriminates against young people and will harm kids who support their families, have children themselves, or work part-time hours to pay for rising tuition costs.
The bill would effect wages for teenagers like Ruby Hernandez, a high school senior who works at a Blaze Pizza. She currently makes the state minimum wage of $11 an hour, but she could see that drop to $7.25 an hour if the bill passes.
"I barely have enough to even help my mom with rent," she said. "I have to worry about buying my own cap and gown and that is kind of sad."
Hernandez said right now she can barely save for college, but if her job decided to cut her pay by $3.75, she would be in real trouble.
"I won't be able to provide for myself anymore or help my family," she said.
Many Republican lawmakers claim the bill would actually incentive businesses to provide more teens with jobs.
"We have close to a 12% youth unemployment. And my question to anyone who is going to oppose this bill is, 'Why do you not want young people to have a job?'" Rep. Travis Grantham said during the floor debate on the bill.
Grantham, a Republican, is the bill's sponsor. He claims the bill is not a violation of Prop 206, the minimum wage increase voters passed in 2016.
"Proposition 206 was dealing with families. I am dealing with youth," he said.
"This measure will ensure that Arizona’s youth will not be shut out of the workforce, but instead, will have as many opportunities as possible to build work ethic, character, and a resume," Grantham said in an emailed statement. "The Youth Employment Act addresses this problem and allows for the creation of employment opportunities for our state’s younger population, including that first, and perhaps most formative, job."
The bill passed in the Arizona House of Representatives 31-29 on Thursday, and now goes before the State Senate.
Hernandez said she will continue to speak against it, and hope that as a freshman next year, she is still earning at least $11an hour.
"I plan on still working in college," she said.