Surprise bi-partisan vote sends bill to raise minimum wage to full Senate

By: - January 14, 2019 4:42 pm

State Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

A bill that would eventually raise Virginia’s minimum wage to $15 an hour will go before the full Senate after a surprise bi-partisan vote Monday.

“That Virginia is getting more expensive is something we need to look at as we go along,” said Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, who chairs the Senate’s Commerce and Labor Committee, which Republicans control and where they have blocked minimum wage legislation in past years.

Wagner and Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, joined the four Democrats on the committee in supporting the bill, which as currently drafted would increase the minimum wage from the current federally mandated minimum of $7.25 an hour to $10 in July of this year, $13 an hour in 2020 and $15 an hour in 2021.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg. “Be still my heart,” she said after the vote.

In theory, the bill now has enough for it to pass the Senate assuming all 19 Democrats vote for it and Norment and Wagner continue to support it.

Democratic groups celebrated and one member of the committee, Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, theorized Republicans were trying to soften their image during a tough election year.

During the same session, the committee also advanced legislation proposed by Spruill that would require businesses to pay shoeshines, ushers and doormen minimum wage. Currently they are exempted. The same bill died in committee last year.

“They know that the Democrats are about to take control,” he said.

Others suggested a trickier subplot is at play: Republican leaders in the Senate are toying with the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce over their endorsement Democrat Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, in a recent special election.

The chamber, which typically backs Republican candidates, opposes raising the minimum wage. And their support of Boysko riled Norment enough that he penned a letter to the group’s leaders quipping that Democratic Socialist Del. Lee Carter “voted more frequently with business” than Boysko and questioning whether the “organization has ceased to support or promote an agenda that encourages commerce,” according to the Daily Press.

Norment, who is not above orchestrating tricky maneuvers to make political points, left the committee meeting before we were able to ask him about his vote and we haven’t yet been able to reach him for comment. So, who knows?

For his part, if anything is going on behind the scenes, Wagner didn’t let on, though he expressed uncertainty when asked how he anticipated a full Senate vote might go.

“We’ll see what happens,” Wagner said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen on the floor.”

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.