The Bulletin

Senate panel votes down House bill to exempt small businesses from minimum wage

By: - February 21, 2022 5:08 pm
Virginia State Capitol

The Virginia State Capitol. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Last week, Republicans in the House of Delegates passed a bill to exempt any business with 10 or fewer employees from the state’s minimum wage law.

On Monday, Democrats in the Senate voted it down alongside a half dozen other bills aimed at rolling back employee and union-friendly legislation the party passed last year before it lost its House majority.

“So they would be exempt from the current minimum wage? …  Just out of curiosity, where in the state can you live on $14,000 a year?” asked Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax.

Virginia’s minimum wage currently sits at $11 an hour and will rise to $12 an hour next year under legislation Democrats passed in 2020.

The $14,000 figure cited by Saslaw represents about what someone would earn working full-time for the federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25-an-hour, which is what small businesses could start paying their employees again if the bill were to pass.

The measure’s sponsor, Del. Phillip Scott, R-Spotsylvania, argued the legislation would help children and disabled people get jobs at small businesses that otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to hire them.

“This would not be aimed at a providing parent,” he said. “This would be geared more toward summer help.”

Scott also floated a scenario in which someone with Down’s syndrome might “just want to get a job sweeping floors at a local coffee shop” but could lose out on state benefits if they were paid at the state’s minimum wage.

But while Scott framed the legislation as narrow, Democrats on the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor noted that it would exempt nearly 80 percent of businesses in the state from paying minimum wage. Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, encouraged Scott to consider redrafting his bill if he intended it only apply to summer workers, minors and disabled people.

Other GOP legislation the panel voted down Monday included bills that would:

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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.