A Maricopa County Superior Court judge on Thursday disqualified signatures gathered by a substantial number of paid circulators for a voter initiative raising the state's minimum wage from $8.05 per hour to $12 an hour by 2020.
Judge Joshua Rogers is still considering other challenges to petition circulators after a full day of testimony. Many of the circulators were disqualified because they hadn't registered with the state, had other problems with their filings or had felony convictions.
Opponents of the minimum wage initiative, led by the Arizona Restaurant Association, are challenging about 70,000 signatures out of the nearly 240,000 considered acceptable by the Arizona Secretary of State. About 150,000 valid signatures are needed for the measure to qualify for the November ballot.
Around 1,000 paid circulators gathered the signatures, and more than 100 of those were at issue in Thursday's hearing.
Rogers could rule as early as Monday on the remaining legal issues in the case. The Secretary of State's office will have to verify if there are enough signatures remaining to put the initiative on the ballot.
"I think it's going to be close," said attorney Jim Barton, who represents the group backing the initiative, the Arizona Healthy Working Families Initiative. "It could go either way."
The restaurant association attorney, Roopali Desai, said it's clear there were major problems with the paid petition gatherers. She said Thursday's decision proved claims that the challenge was just a stalling tactic were incorrect.
"I think that we have done the best we can to protect the system from the paid and out-of-state circulators that are not complying with the law," Desai said.
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 initiative is one of three that appear likely to make the ballot, and all three face challenges.
On Friday, a judge will hear a challenge to a marijuana legalization initiative. That challenge alleges the short title that voters see when they sign petitions misrepresented the scope of the change to the law. Next week, a challenge to an initiative that would cap hospital executive pay is set to be heard. That challenge also seeks to invalidate signatures.