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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.

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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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VDH launches first of its kind contact tracing app to help stop the spread of COVID-19

Virginia is the first state in the country to design a COVID-19 app using Bluetooth Low Energy technology developed by Apple and Google, which does not rely on personal information or location data. Users opt-in to download and utilize the free app.

RVAHub Staff

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Governor Ralph Northam on Wednesday announced the launch of COVIDWISE, an innovative exposure notification app that will alert users if they have been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19. Virginia is the first state in the country to design a COVID-19 app using Bluetooth Low Energy technology developed by Apple and Google, which does not rely on personal information or location data. Users opt-in to download and utilize the free app.

“We must continue to fight COVID-19 from every possible angle,” Governor Northam said in a news release. “The COVIDWISE exposure notification app gives you an additional tool to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community while maintaining your personal privacy. I encourage all Virginians to download and use this app, so we can work together to contain this virus.”

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) developed COVIDWISE in partnership with Spring ML using funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The free app is available to download through the App Store and the Google Play Store. COVIDWISE is the only app in Virginia allowed to use the exposure notifications system (ENS) application programming interface (API) jointly created by Apple and Google. Other countries, including Ireland and Germany, have successfully used this technology in similar apps.

“As COVID-19 cases continue to be identified across the Commonwealth, it is important for people to know whether they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the disease,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “COVIDWISE will notify you if you’ve likely been exposed to another app user who anonymously shared a positive COVID-19 test result. Knowing your exposure history allows you to self-quarantine effectively, seek timely medical attention, and reduce potential exposure risk. The more Virginians use COVIDWISE, the greater the likelihood that you will receive timely exposure notifications that lead to effective disease prevention.”

COVIDWISE works by using random Bluetooth keys that change every 10 to 20 minutes. iOS and Android devices that have the app installed will anonymously share these random keys if they are within close proximity for at least 15 minutes. Each day, the device downloads a list of all random keys associated with positive COVID-19 results submitted by other app users and checks them against the list of random keys it has encountered in the last 14 days. If there is a match, COVIDWISE may notify the individual, taking into account the date and duration of exposure, and the Bluetooth signal strength which is used to estimate proximity.

Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 will be notified by a VDH case investigator and will be given a unique numeric code. This code is entered into the app by the user and serves as verification of a positive report. Others who have downloaded COVIDWISE and have been in close proximity to the individual who reported as being positive will receive a notice which reads, “You have likely been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.” This is your alert to get tested.

The notice includes the estimated number of days since the exposure and provides several options for taking further action, including contacting a primary care physician or local health department, monitoring symptoms, and finding nearby test locations. The Virtual VDH tab within the app also provides links to online resources and relevant phone numbers.

Anyone who downloads the app has the option to choose to receive exposure notifications, and if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is up to them whether or not to share their result anonymously through COVIDWISE. No location data or personal information is ever collected, stored, tracked, or transmitted to VDH as part of the app. Users have the ability to delete the app or turn off exposure notifications at any time.

Officials say widespread use is critical to the success of this effort, and VDH is launching a robust, statewide public information campaign to make sure Virginians are aware of the COVIDWISE app, its privacy protection features, and how it can be used to support public health and help reduce the spread of the virus.

To learn more about COVIDWISE and download the app, visit www.covidwise.org.

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Step into the past with Wickham House Virtual Tour

The Wickham House is currently closed due to the pandemic but you can still get a peek inside.

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The Valentine knows that getting out and about in the current situation isn’t ideal and in some cases completely impossible. To help the learning continue they’ve just launched a virtual tour of the Wickham House.

The Wickham House from the courtyard

The Wickham House sits at 1015 E. Clay Street and was completed in 1812. The Wickham House property once took up a whole city block. In 1882 it was purchased by Mann Valentine II, who filled the house with artifacts and then bequeathed them and the house for the establishment of a museum.

Welcome to the Wickham House, a National Historic Landmark and the Valentine museum’s largest object. This historic home allows us to tell the complicated story of the Wickham family, the home’s enslaved occupants, sharing spaces, the realities of urban slavery and more. While the Wickham House is currently closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we hope you will enjoy this sneak peek virtual tour of the historic home.

The tour focuses on the Wickham family, the home’s enslaves inhabitants, the realities of urban slavery, sharing these spaces and more.

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City of Richmond government offices closed Tuesday due to impacts from Isaias

Due to the impact of Tropical Storm Isaias in the Central Virginia region, City of Richmond government offices will be closed Tuesday, August 4th, with only essential employees reporting, the city announced late Monday night.

RVAHub Staff

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Due to the impact of Tropical Storm Isaias in the Central Virginia region, City of Richmond government offices will be closed Tuesday, August 4th, with only essential employees reporting, the city announced late Monday night.

Essential city services will continue.

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