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General Assembly Approves Delay of Minimum Wage Increase

The minimum wage in Virginia is about to go up, although the economic crisis is postponing the increase a few months.

That was one of the outcomes of Wednesday’s General Assembly session.

When Democrats took control of the House and Senate earlier this year, one of their top priorities was increasing the minimum wage. That led to a lot of drama between progressive and moderate Democrats about how much and how soon. Then the pandemic hit, and the governor suggested the first increment of the increase be delayed from January to May.

Republican Senator Bill DeSteph of Virginia Beach says now is not the time to force businesses to pay low-wage workers more.   “Instead of being sympathetic to these businesses in their worst time, we are tightening the screws," DeSteph told fellow senators as they met at the Science Museum of Virginia.  "And instead of seeing our restaurants reopen, they’re going to remain closed. And instead of seeing our hotels reopen, we're going to see them up for sale.”

On the House side, delegate Lee Carter of Manassas argued that low-wage workers need raises now.   "These people who we are saying are essential to the functioning of our society, who we are telling 'You have to go out there every day and interact with people in close proximity in a lot of cases in the middle of a pandemic that could kill you, that could kill your loved ones, that you could spread to one of your customers, that could kill them, that could kill their loved ones,' we are saying to these people that you are not worth a pay raise come January.”

The House, meeting under a large tent outside the capitol building, approved the governor’s amendment delaying the increase. In the Senate, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax broke a tie in favor of the governor’s amendment.

That means that the minimum wage will go up to $9.50 on May 1, 2021. After that, it’ll go up to $11 in 2022 and $12 in 2023.

Interest rate cap enactment date moved forward

The General Assembly aslo considered an amendment from Northam that would speed up the enactment of a cap on certain high-interest loans.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment argued enactment of that new law should be delayed.  “Many of these facilities have long-term leases they have to negotiate either out of or try to buy their way out of them, and there’s a very significant impact in accelerating the enactment of this law by six months.”

But Democratic Senator Joe Morrissey of Richmond says he’s having a hard time feeling sorry for businesses many people consider predatory.  “Is there anybody in this body that really feels sorry for the payday lenders that they’re going to have difficulty in extricating themselves from their leases? Really?”

lawmakers in both chambers approved the amendment. Instead of enacting the Fairness in Lending Law in July 2021, as lawmakers originally proposed, the new law will instead go into effect on New Years Day.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.