Virginia Senate kills bill to raise minimum wage in a party-line vote

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RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) — UPDATE (Jan. 22):

A Senate bill that would have raised Virginia’s minimum wage is dead -- much to the dismay of more than two dozen advocates who braved the cold to rally for the bill Monday morning.

Introduced by Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, SB 1200 would have increased the minimum wage to $10 on July 1 and eventually to $15 in July 2021. It was defeated Monday afternoon in a 19-21 party-line vote.

“It’s been 10 years since Virginia workers received an increase in wages,” Dance said. “Meanwhile, the price of everyday goods continues to go up. In 2009, the average price for a gallon of gas in America was $1.78 -- today, it’s $2.41.”

There are 30 states with a minimum wage higher than Virginia’s $7.25 -- which is the federal minimum wage.

Speaking in opposition of the bill, Sens. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, and Thomas Norment, R-James City, argued that SB 1200 would hurt businesses and working Virginians.

Norment voted last week in the Committee on Commerce and Labor to advance the bill, but voted against it Monday. He said that raising the minimum wage to $12 would cost Virginia 24,000 jobs.

“If we raise the minimum wage in the manner described in this bill, those jobs, opportunities and learning experiences are gonna disappear,” Obenshain said. “And we’re not gonna be able to provide that to the kids graduating from high school, people entering the workforce. We’re gonna hurt an awful lot of businesses that depend on providing those opportunities to those just entering the workforce.”

Countering Obenshain’s view, Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, said there is a misconception that the majority of workers who earn less than $15 an hour are teenagers working part-time jobs.

“In fact, many of these workers are adults working full time, trying to earn enough to support their families and their futures,” McPike said. “Without the opportunity to earn a living wage, these workers have to work two and three jobs to make ends meet. That means time away from their kids.”

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average age of workers who would be affected by a minimum wage increase is 35 years old.

McPike was one of 10 Democratic senators who spoke in favor of the bill, sharing stories of their constituents who are unable to meet their needs, as well as research conducted on states with higher minimum wages.

Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, said that a recent study shows that Arizona raised its minimum wage but did not lose any jobs.

Before the Senate convened Monday afternoon to vote on the bill, constituents rallied outside the Capitol in support of HB 1200. Organized by the labor union SEIU Virginia 512 and the organization New Virginia Majority, the rally drew more than two dozen people.

“You can’t survive on 7.25,” the group chanted, as senators passed by to enter the Capitol.

There are several other bills this session that would also increase the minimum wage:

HB 1850 would raise the minimum wage to $9 on July 1 and eventually to $15 in 2023.
HB 2157 would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 in 2020.
SB 1017 would raise the minimum wage to $8 on July 1 and eventually to $11.25 in 22.

---HOW THEY VOTED---

Here is how the Senate voted Monday on SB 1200 (Minimum wage; increase to $10 per hour effective July 1, 2019):

01/21/19 — Senate: Defeated by Senate (19-Y 21-N)

YEAS — Barker, Boysko, Dance, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McPike, Petersen, Saslaw, Spruill, Surovell — 19.

NAYS — Black, Carrico, Chafin, Chase, Cosgrove, DeSteph, Dunnavant, Hanger, McDougle, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Reeves, Ruff, Stanley, Stuart, Sturtevant, Suetterlein, Vogel, Wagner — 21.

_________

ORIGINAL STORY (Jan. 15):

After dozens of women rallied at the Capitol on Monday, a legislative committee passed one of their key priorities — a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Virginia.

SB 1200 would take effect July 1, initially raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour, then to $13 an hour in 2020 and $15 an hour in 2021. The bill, which passed the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on a 6-4 vote, will advance to the full Senate for a vote.

Currently, the minimum wage in Virginia is the federal minimum — $7.25 an hour. Raising the minimum wage was one of a number of legislative items — including access to reproductive health and paid family and medical leave — supported by the women’s advocacy groups at the rally.

Tara Gibson, Virginia director of the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy, said at the rally that raising the minimum wage would benefit women and their families.

“How many of you work multiple jobs just to provide for your families, or worry whether you can afford to put food on the table or make next month’s rent?” Gibson asked. “We’re all better off when everyone has the tools to build a good life.”

In most states, including Virginia, women make up more than half of minimum wage workers. Nationally, women consist of 47 percent of the workforce as of 2017. Across all races, women make up a larger portion of minimum wage workers than men.

To Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia — one of the groups present at the rally — supporting an increase in the minimum wage contributes to a “holistic” approach to gender equality.

“We know all of those things are important for women and families to thrive,” Scholl said.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam spoke briefly at the rally in favor of paid medical and family leave. SB 1639 would allow state employees 12 weeks of family and medical leave per year. The benefit amounts to 70 percent of the employee’s wage, capped at $850 per week. Last year, a bill passed in Virginia granting state employees two months of parental leave.

“We want to make sure all Virginians have access to parental leave,” Northam said. “There is nothing more important than for a mother and father to be able to stay home with their new baby, or if there is an adoption or a foster child involved.”

Advocates also supported two bills that would prevent insurance companies from discriminating based on gender identity or transgender status. SB 1287 and HB 1864 are awaiting a vote at the legislative committee level.

Rebecca Barwick, a transgender woman who attended the rally, said the bills would help her get both prostate care and breast care. Currently, she said, her gender is listed as male on her insurance because if it were changed, she might be denied prostate care if she needed it in the future.

“However, having this marker set to male puts me at risk of being denied breast health if I ever need that,” Barwick said.

Barwick also discussed the difficulties she experienced when undergoing hormone treatments in 2015. There weren’t any nearby health centers offering hormone therapy that accepted her insurance, requiring her to make a three-hour trip to Washington, D.C. every three months. Then, the Planned Parenthood location in her city began offering hormone treatments.

“This changed my travel for health care from three hours to 10 minutes,” Barwick said.