Bills advance that would halt planned minimum wage increases – The Suffolk News-Herald
By Katharine DeRosa
Capital News Service
Two bills introduced by Republicans to halt future minimum wage increases have advanced to the floor of the House.
Virginia’s minimum wage increased to $11 an hour on Jan. 1 and is expected to rise to $12 next January.
The House Commerce and Energy Committee approved Bill 320, introduced by Del. Nicholas J. Freitas, R-Culpeper, and HB 296, presented by Del. Joseph P. McNamara, R-Roanoke. Both bills would eliminate planned future increases to the current minimum wage law.
McNamara’s bill was amended to include payment for health care benefits as long as the minimum hourly wage is not less than $11. Sen. Mark J. Peake, R-Lynchburg, introduced a similar bill in the Senate, which was later defeated by Democrats.
Both House measures walked out of committee in a 12-9 vote along party lines, with Republicans holding the majority.
“I know what it’s like to work for minimum wage,” Freitas said during the subcommittee meeting. “Actually, there have probably been a few times when I’ve worked for a little less than that; In fact, I was happy to have this job.
According to Freitas, raising the minimum wage would prevent people from negotiating with employers a wage they are willing to accept.
Freitas said the state government should not “arbitrarily” raise the minimum wage. He told the panel, when asked, that he had no plans to cut the current minimum wage, due to recent inflation.
The state minimum wage was $7.25 before May 1, 2021. This matches the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which has not changed since 2009.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics released two Consumer Price Index reports in late 2021 that included parts of Virginia. One included the Washington metropolitan area. The other report is for the Southern region, which includes Virginia.
The consumer price index is a measure of the change over time in the prices that consumers pay for goods and services. Both reports show that the index is rising.
The index rose in one year by almost 5.8% in the Washington metropolitan area, according to the BLS report. The South index increased by 7.4% in one year.
“When inflation has effectively moved a job beyond a particular level, then you’ve canceled the own minimum wage increase that you currently have,” Freitas said. “To keep it at $11 at this point, I’m hitting the target I set for myself.”
Freitas said he questions the idea that a higher minimum wage fosters an environment in which people and businesses can create “the maximum number of jobs that you can get that people would actually want.”
A few House Democrats questioned Freitas during the introduction of the bill. Of the. Jeion A. Ward, D-Hampton, said she thinks it would be a mistake to end minimum wage increases. Ward also said she wanted the public to have a chance to voice their opinion on the matter.
“When you talk about kitchen table issues, that’s what people talk about at their table,” Ward said. “It’s these little families, these families working minimum wage, and I don’t think they’re saying, ‘That’s too much’.”
The current state minimum wage law has a reconstitution clause. Next January, the minimum wage will automatically increase to $12 an hour. However, the General Assembly must retake the measure before July 1, 2024 for the salary increase to $13.50 then to $15 to remain in effect. Lawmakers could make changes to the bill during the process. The Commissioner of Labor and Industry would set the state’s adjusted hourly minimum wage if lawmakers failed to re-pass the bill.
Kim Bobo, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, spoke against the bill during the subcommittee meeting. One of the main goals of the center is to eradicate poverty, Bobo said.
“Most people and families in poverty have working family members, and frankly, they just don’t earn enough to lift themselves out of poverty,” Bobo said in an interview. “The best way to tackle this problem is to raise the minimum wage.”
The Republican Party ran as pro-business in the gubernatorial election, Bobo said. However, she believes there is a “disconnect” between the party and working class families.
“I think the Republican Party and the new governor should look at these ‘essential’ issues like minimum wage, like paid sick leave,” Bobo said.
One percent of hourly workers over the age of 25 earned minimum wage in 2020, according to the latest available data from the BLS. Women were more likely to earn minimum wage than men in 2020.
“I thought Freitas’ main argument that ‘oh, this is really going to help teenagers and people get into the workforce’ was really, really misleading in terms of who’s really on minimum wage,” Bobo said. .
About 50% of hourly workers earning minimum wage in 2020 were under the age of 25, according to the BLS. Southern states had the highest percentages of people working for minimum wage. About 3% of hourly workers in Virginia earn minimum wage or less.
“A lot of young people are in college,” Bobo said. “If the minimum wage is $15 versus $7.25, there’s a huge difference in being able to make ends meet.
The House gave both bills first reading on January 27. If either bill passes the House, Bobo said she was confident the measure would die in the majority Democratic Senate.
“I’m not going to go through the whole court effort on this,” Bobo said.