From Raising the Minimum Wage, to Allowing Casinos: 5 Things Lawmakers Did on Deadline This Weekend
Lawmakers in Richmond were scheduled to wrap up an historic legislative session on Saturday. With final decisions pending on several major pieces of legislation, and a deadline looming, they opted to add more time to the calendar.
By the end of the day Sunday they had hammered out details on everything from raising the minimum wage, to local control of Confederate monuments. We have a round-up of the final, last minute, legislation below.
Raising the Minimum Wage
Virginia's minimum wage has been at $7.25/hr for more than a decade. Lawmakers have now passed legislation that provides a path to $15/hr statewide by 2026, but only if they give their approval again in 2024.
Here are the more immediate impacts: $9.50/hr beginning in 2021, $11/hr in 2022, and $12/hr in 2023. That would apply to all businesses, regardless of size. According to the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, more than a million Virginians will get a pay increase.
The minimum wage law has been expanded to include, for the first time, homecare and domestic workers. It does not include farm workers, au pairs, and students under 18 who work less than 20/hrs a week. The tipped minimum wage is not impacted or raised.
There are no regional minimum wages in the legislation, but it does call for a study on regionalization that would presumably inform lawmakers’ decision in 2024 on whether to proceed with statewide increases.
Collective Bargaining for Public Employees
47 states allow public employees to collectively bargain. Now Virginia joins the group, making it 48. However, the legislation lawmakers agreed to does not include state employees.
Instead it repeals the current ban on collective bargaining for employees of counties, cities, and school systems. That will impact teachers, school staff, firefighters, social workers, mental health staff, and police.
“(This) allows for people to bargain for better jobs, wages, salaries, benefits, and for resources they need on the job,” explained David Broder of SEIU.
Teachers could bargain for smaller class size or first responders could bargain for more training. Localities will have to opt-in, and pass an ordinance that would allow their employees to collectively bargain. Loudoun and Fairfax Counties have already publicly supported the measure, as has the Mayor of Richmond.
“I don’t think we’re going to see a stampede of localities do this, but I do think we’ll see a number of counties…recognize that the time has come for,” said Broder.
Local Control of Confederate Monuments
Charlottesville City Council has voted to remove its statue of Robert E. Lee from downtown, but a state law has kept them from ever actually acting on that decision. Lawmakers have agreed to amend the law, officially ceding control of war memorials, Confederate monuments included, over to localities.
The last minute adjustments to the legislation were about how many hoops localities would have to jump through if they wanted to remove or alter a monument.
The final bill allows a locality to “remove, relocate, contextualize, or cover” a monument if they first: advertise and hold a public hearing, vote on the issue, then offer to give the monument to any “museum, historical society, government, or military battlefield.” A locality may also, but doesn’t have to, hold a referendum on the matter.
Casinos & Sports Betting
Banking on increased tax revenue and new jobs, Virginia is greenlighting a couple different forms of gambling.
Lawmakers have given approval for five Virginia cities to move forward with casino plans. The localities (Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth, Norfolk and Richmond) would first have to hold a referendum and get local voters' approval -- so opening day may still be years away.
“What this is going to do is add millions of dollars to the tax coffers directly of these five depressed cities,” said Delegate Barry Knight. “It’s going to create jobs so these people can lift themselves up.”
Lawmakers have also legalized betting on sports games. At the last minute, they decided betting on Virginia college teams will not be allowed.
Background Checks & Handgun Limitations
The two final pieces of Governor Northam’s gun control package had a few kinks lawmakers still had to come to an agreement about. Moderate Democrats in the Senate ultimately prevailed, successfully pushing a couple exceptions to two major components of the gun control agenda: background checks, and a monthly cap on handgun purchases.
Lawmakers passed a bill requiring background checks on all gun purchases, but the final piece of legislation exempts transfers between individuals. They also reinstated a law limiting handgun purchases to no more than one a month. However, individuals who have a concealed carry permit would be exempt from that cap.
Governor Ralph Northam still celebrated the passage of both bills saying they would “save lives.”