Virginia lawmakers vote to delay minimum wage increase in response to coronavirus crisis

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The coronavirus pandemic forced Virginia lawmakers to meet under unprecedented circumstances for Wednesday’s veto session. Members of the each chamber wore masks and tried to remain distant as lawmakers voted to delay legislative priorities pushed by Democrats during the General Assembly session.

The first outdoor session for the House of Delegates didn’t come without issues, including initial problems with the automated voting system, strong wind and the House Speaker abruptly collapsing at the podium.

The Virginia Senate and House of Delegates are required to reconvene under the Virginia Constitution to act upon the governor’s amendments to bills and the budget and vetoes. Gov. Ralph Northam vetoed one bill and recommended amendments to 102 bills passed by the state legislature.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the measures debated and voted on:

Remote voting 

  • A proposal by House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn that would’ve allow the House of Delegates to vote remotely during the pandemic failed because it didn’t win a two-thirds majority. 

Delaying local elections

  • After a series of votes, the House of Delegates approved Gov. Ralph Northam’s pitch to move local elections from May to November 2020 due to social distancing concerns. The Senate still has to vote to approve the delay.

Releasing inmates 

  • The House narrowly approved a budget amendment from Gov. Northam 
  • It gives VADOC the authority to release inmates with a year or less left in their sentence if they’re not a threat to public safety. 
  • The goal is to get as many inmates as possible out of congregate settings during the pandemic but Republicans say “hundreds of murderers, armed robbers and burglars” could be released.

Rent and mortgage relief

  • Legislation that originally only applied to furloughed federal workers is being expanded to provide temporary rent and mortgage relief to anyone who has lost income due to COVID-19. 
  • It doesn’t mean people don’t have to pay their rent or mortgage. It prevents eviction and foreclosure proceedings from moving forward during the Governor’s state of emergency
  • The protections do not apply to owners who are already being protected from foreclosure under another action taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • The House passed it on Wednesday.

Delaying Virginia’s minimum wage increase

  • The House and Senate agreed to delay the first phase of Virginia’s minimum wage increase to $9.50 per hour from January 2021 to May 2021. 

Delaying a ban on skills games 

  • The House of Delegates (not sure about the Senate) approved Gov. Northam’s amendment to delay a ban on skills games for a year
  • The games will be taxed for the first time before they’re phased out. The majority of that revenue will go towards a COVID-19 Relief Fund created by the bill 

Decriminalizing the possession of marijuana 

  • $25 dollar fine for up to an ounce of marijuana 
  • The governor wanted to waive the right to a jury trial for what would be a civil penalty. The House and Senate rejected that amendment
  • The Senate also rejected the governor’s proposal to extend the duration of a work group studying the impact of legalization from November 30, 2020, to November 30, 2021. Virginia NORML says that doesn’t mean the General Assembly won’t consider legalization next year
  • The governor can now veto the bill or accept it.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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