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:
- freeze the minimum wage at $11 an hour;
- allow employers who provide health care to pay below the minimum wage,
- require the Virginia Employment Commission to provide unemployment benefits to people fired for refusing to comply with vaccine mandates; and
- create new rules governing the creation of public employee unions.
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