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Legislature delays minimum wage increase amid budget concerns

The identical bills, introduced by Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, and Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, originally would have raised the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 per hour on Jan. 1, 2021. The governor’s amendment pushes the start to May 1, 2021.

Capital News Service

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By Will Gonzalez

Labor advocates and Virginia legislators worried the recently passed bill to increase minimum wage might die during the reconvened General Assembly session Wednesday.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s amendment deferred the start date of the original bill by four months in response to the economic blow dealt to the state from the coronavirus pandemic. The recommendation was one of many made to trim the $135 billion, two-year budget passed in the spring. Republican lawmakers wanted to reject the amendment in order to stall the passage of the bill and have the governor amend it further.

During the relocated Senate floor session held at the Science Museum of Virginia, Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, argued that now is a risky time to consider raising the minimum wage given the COVID-19 crisis. He said the legislature should reject the governor’s recommendation and send the bill back for reconsideration.

“Voting ‘no’ on this amendment keeps this issue alive,” Obenshain said. “It sends it back to the governor, and the governor has one more chance to do what’s right, not just for businesses, but for workers.”

Lawmakers who oppose minimum wage increases argued that those working minimum wage jobs in Virginia are young people entering the workforce, not people trying to support families. Other legislators pointed to the essential workers now serving the public from the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak, many of whom make minimum wage.

“Quite frankly I find it hard to believe we’ve got people in here who don’t think somebody working full time in any job should earn at least $19,600 a year,” said Senate majority leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax. “There’s no one in here … that would work for that kind of wage. No one.”

There were impassioned pleas from several House members to accept the recommendation instead of risking the bill being vetoed, though one delegate voiced resentment at having to make the choice. Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, said the COVID-19 crisis has spotlit “one of the most glaring contradictions in our economy” — that workers paid the least are often deemed most essential to society.

“We are saying to these people ‘you are not worth a pay raise come January,’” Carter said. “I’m not gonna fault anyone that votes ‘yes’ on this, for taking the sure thing four months later rather than taking the chance, but if that’s what we’re gonna do … I can’t be any part of it.” Carter did not cast a vote on the amendment.

Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William, said that some legislators’ notion that families don’t depend on minimum wage is a myth.

“I’m glad they acknowledge that there are people in Virginia who cannot live off minimum wage,” Guzman said. “Actually, what they do is they get a second job, or a third job in order to make ends meet.” Guzman immigrated to the U.S. from Peru at the age of 18 and worked three jobs to afford a one bedroom apartment.

The House of Delegates voted 49-45 to accept Northam’s amendment to their bill. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax made the tie-breaking Senate vote when its version ended in a 20-20 tie.

The identical bills, introduced by Sen. Saslaw and Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, originally would have raised the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 per hour on Jan. 1, 2021. The governor’s amendment pushes the start to May 1, 2021.

The wage will then increase to $11 in 2022, $12 in 2023 and by another $1.50 in 2025 and 2026. Every subsequent year the bill is to be re-amended to adjust the minimum wage to reflect the consumer price index.

Virginia’s cost of living index is very close to the national average, but it ranks in the top four among states where the minimum wage equals the federal rate of $7.25, according to an analysis of data from the Missouri Economic Research and Development Center.

Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, said now is not the time for Virginia to turn its back on low wage workers.

“We have been fighting for a decade to push for people who are working hard to make ends meet, to support their families and to be able to do so with dignity,” Scholl said. “That’s what raising the minimum wage is about.”

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Black Bear’s Visit to Richmond Comes to a Safe End

No picnic baskets, bears, dogs, cats, or humans were harmed in today’s adventure.

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A black bear decided to explore Richmond today. First spotted on the Northbank Trail he later headed into town. Previous reports earlier in the week had the bear up near Pony Pasture. The picture above is from RACC Instagram which reported on the sedation and transportation of the bear.

We just received a call about a bear-and it really was a bear. Sometimes we laugh and arrive on scene with a giant Rottweiler, but nope-this was a real bear. We named him Fuzzy Wuzzy. Shout out to @richmondpolice for helping keep us safe and to @virginiawildlife for tranquilizing and relocating the bear out of the City!

Bear on Northbank this morning! from r/rva

Here he is in town.

Bear at Byrd and 5th from r/rva

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Downtown

Majority of Virginia to enter Phase Two of reopening; Richmond to remain in Phase One for now

Richmond and Northern Virginia will remain in Phase One while surrounding localities can now ease restrictions on gatherings, indoor dining, and other uses.

RVAHub Staff

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Governor Ralph Northam today signed Executive Order Sixty-Five and presented the second phase of the “Forward Virginia” plan to continue safely and gradually easing public health restrictions while containing the spread of COVID-19. The Governor also amended Executive Order Sixty-One directing Northern Virginia and the City of Richmond to remain in Phase One.

Most of Virginia is expected to enter Phase Two on Friday, June 5, as key statewide health metrics continue to show positive signs. Virginia’s hospital bed capacity remains stable, the percentage of people hospitalized with a positive or pending COVID-19 test is trending downward, no hospitals are reporting PPE shortages, and the percent of positive tests continues to trend downward as testing increases. The Governor and Virginia public health officials will continue to evaluate data based on the indicators laid out in April.

“Because of our collective efforts, Virginia has made tremendous progress in fighting this virus and saved lives,” said Governor Northam. “Please continue to wear a face covering, maintain physical distance, and stay home if you are high-risk or experience COVID-19 symptoms. Virginians have all sacrificed to help contain the spread of this disease, and we must remain vigilant as we take steps to slowly lift restrictions in our Commonwealth.”

Executive Order Sixty-Five modifies public health guidance in Executive Order Sixty-One and Sixty-Two and establishes guidelines for Phase Two. Northern Virginia and the City of Richmond entered Phase One on Friday, May 29, and will remain in Phase One to allow for additional monitoring of health data. Accomack County delayed reopening due to outbreaks in poultry plants, which have largely been controlled through rigorous testing. Accomack County will move to Phase Two with the rest of the Commonwealth, on Friday, June 5.

Under Phase Two, the Commonwealth will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued recommendations for social distancing, teleworking, and requiring individuals to wear face coverings in indoor public settings. The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase from 10 to 50 people. All businesses should still adhere to physical distancing guidelines, frequently clean and sanitize high contact surfaces, and continue enhanced workplace safety measures.

Restaurant and beverage establishments may offer indoor dining at 50 percent occupancy, fitness centers may open indoor areas at 30 percent occupancy, and certain recreation and entertainment venues without shared equipment may open with restrictions. These venues include museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and outdoor concert, sporting, and performing arts venues. Swimming pools may also expand operations to both indoor and outdoor exercise, diving, and swim instruction.

The current guidelines for religious services, non-essential retail, and personal grooming services will largely remain the same in Phase Two. Overnight summer camps, most indoor entertainment venues, amusement parks, fairs, and carnivals will also remain closed in Phase Two.

Phase Two guidelines for specific sectors can be found here. Phase One guidelines sectors are available here. Visit virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia for more information and answers to frequently asked questions.

The full text of Executive Order Sixty-Five and Order of Public Health Emergency Six is available here.

The full text of amended Executive Order Sixty-One can be found here.

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Richmond Police, Mayor Stoney apologize after tear gas deployed before curfew on protesters

Protesters took to the streets of Richmond again Monday night and were met with a forceful response and the deployment of tear gas by Richmond Police – an action for which the department and Mayor Stoney later apologized.

RVAHub Staff

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Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Richmond again Monday afternoon and evening to speak out after the death of George Floyd. The group organized near both the Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart Monuments on Monument Avenue and remained mainly peaceful until police approached demonstrators at the Lee statue and deployed tear gas, as can be seen below from the below Twitter video from VPM.

Around the same time, reports began coming in that protesters at the Stuart monument were attempting to bring it down. A young demonstrator scaled the base of the statue and took what appeared to be a hack saw to the leg of the monument’s horse in an effort to bring it down. Police responded by calling on protesters to stand down, citing the weight of the monuments and their potential to crush bystanders.

Richmond Police and Mayor Levar Stoney later apologized for the deployment of tear gas on peaceful protesters – well below the 8:00 PM curfew – saying it was uncalled for and inviting protesters to City Hall at noon Tuesday to “apologize in person.” For its part, RPD said the officers involved had been “removed from the field” and would be subject to disciplinary action.

The protesters then continued marching down Franklin Street, then W. Broad Street, where things fizzled out around 10:30 PM near 14th Street.

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