A judge on Friday rejected a challenge to a voter initiative raising the state's minimum wage from $8.05 per hour to $12 an hour by 2020, clearing the way for it to appear on the November ballot barring a successful appeal.
The opponents of the initiative vowed an immediate appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joshua Rogers ruled the Arizona Restaurant Association filed its challenge too late and dismissed the case. He said the law says initiative challenges must be filed within five days of when the petitions that could qualify the initiative for the ballots are filed.
The restaurant association says Rogers should have used five business days as the yardstick.
"We have every bit of respect for Judge Rogers but we simply don't agree with his ruling on the five days,' said Steve Chucri, president of the association. "We will appeal this and we're in the process of filing a notice to appeal to the Supreme Court."
The attorney for the Arizona Healthy Working Families Initiative said he believes Rogers got it right.
"The judge's opinion is very well thought out on this issue," said Jim Barton. "If it doesn't say, then it's calendar days. That's the rule."
The association alleged many signatures were invalid because some signature-gatherers were not qualified. Rogers ruled that indeed scores of people who collected signatures didn't qualify and he would have thrown out their petition sheets.
But they stand because the lawsuit was filed too late.
Chucri said he believes the initiative backers will fall short if the Supreme Court overturns Rogers' time-limit ruling
"That's our belief, yeah, or else we wouldn't be appealing," he said.
Barton said that remains unclear. The Secretary of State is finalizing its signature review to see if the measure makes the ballot.
The chairman of the group backing the effort called the ruling a big victory.
"Thankfully, the Arizona Restaurant Association's astonishing attempt to disempower voters and prevent hardworking families from voting on this important proposal has failed," Tom Robles said in a statement.
The initiative would increase the minimum wage to $10 next year and then to $12 by 2020. It also would require large employers to provide five days of sick time a year and small employers three days.
The group turned in nearly 240,000 signatures and needs nearly 151,000 to be valid to make the ballot.
Earlier Friday, another judge ruled against an initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana. An appeal is also expected of that ruling.
Earlier this week, backers of a measure limiting hospital executive pay agreed to withdraw the initiative in the face of a court challenge.