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story.lead_photo.caption Kmara Seals, policy director for Arkansas Citizens First Congress, speaks at a rally Thursday on the state Capitol steps protesting bills that would add exceptions to the $11 minimum wage bill approved by voters in November. - Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun

A few dozen protesters held a rally at the state Capitol at noon Thursday to oppose bills that propose to roll back the $11 minimum wage approved by voters last fall.

"Vote no on HB1752 and HB1753," the group chanted, "or we'll vote no for you."

The bills are sponsored by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs. HB1752 would exempt businesses with fewer than 25 employees and also certain nonprofit groups from paying the state's minimum wage. HB1753 would exempt teenagers from future wage increases, keeping them at the current $9.25 an hour.

[RELATED: Complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature]

Arkansas voters approved a phased-in minimum wage increase last November. The first increase, from $8.50 to $9.25, went into effect Jan. 1. The minimum wage will rise to $11 by 2021.

Almost as soon as the Legislature's regular session began this year, lawmakers proposed exempting small businesses and teens from the wage increase. Doing so will require a two-thirds vote of each chamber.

On Wednesday, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the voter-approved increase should be left alone.

Rich Huddleston, the director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, spoke at the rally Thursday, saying that 57 percent of the people that would be affected by Lundstrum's proposed exemptions are full-time workers.

A House committee approved Lundstrum's bills, which await House action.

-- John Moritz

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