Virginia’s New Battle Over Minimum Wage

Virginia’s General Assembly 2022 session is now well underway, and the election result’s impacts on businesses is beginning to take shape. While the legislature has focused in large part the politically charged debates regarding parents’ rights regarding masks in schools and the need for masks during the pandemic, there have been other business-oriented bills that have advanced that are equally contentious.

For example, the prior General Assembly, which was then controlled by the Democrats, voted to increase Virginia’s minimum in January 2022 to $11 per hour and voted for subsequent increases thereafter until 2024. In this session, Republican members of the House of Delegates, which is now controlled by the Republicans, introduced a bill to freeze any minimum wage increases at the current $11 per hour figure. That bill recently passed the House of Delegates. However, the Senate, which is controlled by the Democrats, recently rejected a similar bill and are expected to reject the bill from the House of Delegates. Similarly, in another example, when the Democrats controlled both chambers they passed legislation that allowed local governments to engage in collective bargaining with local unions, which had previously been banned for government entities. The new House of Delegates has passed a measure to effectively repeal such legislative, while the state Senate has blocked such legislation. In other words, divided government is now the norm in Virginia and dramatic policy swings are unlikely.

That said, Virginia businesses still need to carefully monitor developments. The Democrats have a one seat advantage in the Senate and cannot lose a single senator for any reason because the new Republican Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears can break any ties in favor of the Republicans. The school masking issue is advancing in the Senate because of a few democrat cross over votes.

In many ways, the current environment in Virginia mirrors the larger national environment in the U.S. Senate in which the party nominally in charge has at times found that a divided Senate means exercising control is harder than party members think it should be. Indeed, the recent stroke suffered by New Mexico U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján is forcing capital hill leadership to rearrange votes and could impact the timing of U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

For the time being, in Virginia, changes to the minimum wage law and collective bargaining are unlikely, but the close margins in the Generally Assembly means that sickness, death, or simply disagreement from one member could change results or control on any number of issues. Businesses and citizens should therefore carefully monitor the situation in Richmond between now and the next state elections in 2023.