Stay up-to-date on the General Assembly Session in Richmond! The Northern Virginia Chamber has a full time presence throughout the 2020 legislative session.
Week 4 of the 401st Session of the Virginia General Assembly was one defined by long lines, long dockets, and long meetings. Next week is expected to be more of this, as it is the final full week before “crossover,” where only bills passed by the other chamber will be considered in the House and Senate.
The Northern Virginia Chamber will continue to maintain a full-time presence in Richmond during the session, this year aided by additional full time contracted lobbyists from Williams Mullen. For more information regarding the Chamber’s business advocacy efforts and to see our 2020 Legislative Agenda, please visit the Chamber’s website at https://www.novachamber.org/2020-legislative-session.html.
Business Climate (Minimum Wage and Right to Work)
As expected, there is legislation raising the minimum wage and repealing right to work. The Chamber is opposed to both.
- Minimum Wage
This week, Senate Commerce and Labor approved its vehicle for raising the minimum wage in Virginia. SB7 (Saslaw) was reported out of Committee after a lengthy discussion and with several amendments offered by Sen. Dave Marsden. The reported version raises the minimum wage to $9.75 on July 1 and then gradually to $11.75 in 2022. After that, it rises gradually to $15.00 in 2025 but employers can credit health benefits to the hourly wage. Finally, the bill directs the Virginia Economic Development Partnership to review a potential regional minimum wage and report back by November 30, 2020. The Chamber does not support an increase in the minimum wage, but does support this examination of the regional impact which is included in our 2020 Legislative Agenda.
In the House, a much different bill was approved by the subcommittee this week. That bill, HB395 (Ward), raises the minimum wage to $10.00 on July 1 and then gradually to $15.00 on July 1, 2024. After that, the wage is pegged to the Consumer Price Index. It does not include credit for providing health benefits. It does include raising the cash wage employers are required to pay to tipped employees, upending the current “tip credit” statute that the Chamber supports in our 2020 Legislative Agenda. That portion of the wage is raised from $2.13 to $4.88 on July 1 and then gradually to $9.88 in 2024. Beginning in 2025, that wage is required to be 70 percent of the standard minimum wage. The Chamber is working with the restaurant and hotel industry to oppose the tip credit changes.
- “Fair Share” and Right to Work
SB426 (Saslaw) would require employees to pay a pro rata share of a union’s collective bargaining expenses if that union in effect represented the employee in that bargaining. This bill was on the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee docket on Monday, Jan. 27, but was passed by due to the length of debate on other bills and will be heard Monday, Feb. 3 in the early afternoon. The Chamber opposes this bill.
Required Employee Leave Proposals
The General Assembly is considering a number of proposals requiring employers to offer specific kinds of leave. In the Senate, the Finance Committee heard testimony on SB770 (Boysko) that would increase payroll taxes on employers and employees and provide employees up to 12 weeks of annual leave for reasons included in the federal, non-paid, Family and Medical Leave Act. The Committee passed it by for the week, setting up a potential vote on Feb. 3. The House Labor and Commerce Committee on Jan. 30 referred HB825 (Carroll Foy) to the Appropriations Committee, which is the House companion to SB770. The Chamber spoke against these bills, stating the program is too costly, too expansive, and undermines the market-based, competitive benefits packages our members already offer.
A more limited approach is included in bills HB898 (Guzman) and SB481 (Favola) as well as HB1684 (Sickles) and SB1069 (Barker). These four bills require employers to provide 40 hours of earned paid sick leave annually; the substantive difference between the bills is HB1684/SB1069 exempts employers with less than 25 employees.
Other proposals include mandating employers offer employees 4 hours of parental leave annually, at least 24 hours of paid sick leave annually, and 4 days of leave annually if the employee or a family member is a victim of sexual violence (this bill, HB403 (Keam), was passed by for the year on Jan. 28). While we are not supportive of any mandated leave bills, we have been engaging with patrons to try and mitigate the potential impact should the bills be successful.
Research & Development Tax Credits
The Chamber through its membership in the R&D Tax Credit Coalition is supporting SB110 (Howell) and HB748 (Jones) which would extend the sunset and increase the caps imposed when the program was created in 2016. SB110 was reported out of the Finance Committee on Jan. 29 with some changes: the sunset was extended to 10 years rather than the 5 in the original bill, but the credit cap increases were reduced to 20 percent which is lower than in the original bill. The House companion is waiting to be heard in subcommittee.
The Chamber was actively working with Sen. Scott Surovell on his bill SB639 which would have required 25 percent of regional GO Virginia grants to be awarded to projects that support jobs in federally designated Opportunity Zones. Working with GO Virginia representatives, we were able to amend the bill so that the Opportunity Zone investment could be credited to a project and reduce its local match requirement. The Senate Finance Committee voted to pass by the bill indefinitely on Jan. 28.
Transportation Omnibus Bills
HB1414 (Filler-Corn) and SB899 (Saslaw) are the transportation omnibus bills that would implement the Governor’s budget proposal, partially restoring money diverted from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to WMATA in 2018 by raising the grantor’s tax, transient-occupancy tax, and statewide gas tax. HB1414 will be acted upon by the House Finance Committee the afternoon of Feb. 3 and SB899 was reported out of subcommittee this week and likely will go to full committee next week. There are many differences right now between the two bills and between each bill and the Governor’s proposal. The Chamber is supporting these bills and working with members of our delegation on them. Through our membership in the Northern Virginia Transportation Coalition, we are also working on more fully restoring the diverted NVTA funding.
Education and Workforce Bills
One policy area where Chamber priorities will advance this session is in education and workforce development. There are a number of these bills we are supporting that, when taken together, show a strong interest by this General Assembly in workforce development. The Chamber is very encouraged that our legislators have heard from the business community that more is needed to fill open jobs and create tomorrow’s workforce.
- Dual Enrollment and Work-Based Learning:
We are supporting several bills that take similar approaches to encouraging more dual enrollment by high school students. The House and Senate have approved companion legislation – SB112 (Suetterlein) and HB516 (Bulova) which require the Board of Education to include in its high school graduation requirements the options for students to complete a dual-enrollment course or high-quality work-based learning experience in place of an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate course.
HB524 (Subramanyam) was referred from the House floor to Appropriations, likely due to the cost associated. This bill would create a registry where IT and cybersecurity professionals would sign up to assist localities and school districts with mentorship and other workforce development opportunities.
HB1680 (Tyler) would require the Board of Education to update its Career and Technical Education Work-Based Learning Guide to expand the opportunities available for students to earn credit for graduation through high-quality work-based learning experiences. This bill could go before subcommittee on Monday, Feb. 3.
One challenging set of bills, HB785 and SB484, would equalize taxing authority between counties and cities. The Chamber is opposing these bills as drafted because they would allow counties to adopt an unlimited meals tax without referendum and to adopt a higher transient occupancy tax. The bills would also allow counties to adopt admissions taxes and tobacco taxes, but the meals and TOT are the two categories that would produce the most revenue for Northern Virginia counties. The Chamber opposes the bills as drafted.
Association Health Plans
The Northern Virginia Chamber remains supportive of association health plan legislation (HB795-Hurst, SB235-Barker, SB861-Mason), which would allow associations like Chambers of Commerce to offer health coverage to small businesses. This helps small business gain access to more affordable healthcare for their employees. Last session, Gov. Northam vetoed legislation regarding association health plans. The Virginia Chamber took the lead in working through his list of objections. SB861 was approved by the Senate on Jan. 24 and SB235 was approved unanimously on Jan. 28. On that same day, HB795 was reported out of Committee unanimously.
This General Assembly has a very strong interest in pursuing new clean energy policies for the Commonwealth and members have introduced a variety of bills to do so. Our 2020 Legislative Agenda supports initiatives that promote a diverse, reliable, efficient, and affordable energy portfolio to support a growing economy, while contributing to the Commonwealth’s economic development and environmental goals.
- Virginia Energy Plan
HB714 (Reid) and SB94 (Favola) call for the creation of a Virginia Energy Plan, which includes a target of net-zero emissions in Virginia by 2045. The Chamber is supportive of this approach to clean energy policy because it includes private sector engagement, considers economic implications of the transition to clean energy, and is generally a more business-minded approach to clean energy policy. SB94 was approved by the Senate on Jan. 24; HB714 will likely go before subcommittee the week of Feb. 3.
- The Green New Deal:
The Green New Deal (HB77) is the energy legislation with the most strict deadlines. Among its many provisions, HB77 establishes a 2021 moratorium on new energy facilities that rely on fossil fuels, including pipelines that transport such fuels. It also requires that 100 percent of the energy sold by a retail electric provider be produced by clean energy sources. The Chamber opposes this bill because it does not consider the economic implications of what it is requiring, such as the affordability and reliability of the clean energy supply that may be available in 2036. It also includes a number of labor provisions unrelated to clean energy.
- Virginia Clean Economy Act
HB1526 is another far-reaching clean energy bill before this General Assembly. Similar to the Green New Deal, it sets interim targets for the use of renewables on the path toward 100 percent renewable energy generation by 2050.
This is of course a budget year, and Gov. Northam’s 2020-2021 budget includes major investments in education and transportation. The Chamber is working to ensure our priorities included in the budget, particularly in education and transportation, are funded equitably through General Assembly adoption.
Budget amendments we are supporting include Sen. Favola’s restoration of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative which is $25,000,000 over the biennium. There are a couple that we are working with the patrons on to better understand, mostly those that alter the Governor’s G3 initiative: freezing tuition and changing definitions of eligible students and institutions.
If you have not reviewed the proposals included in this budget, I would encourage you to do so here: https://www.governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/all-releases/2019/december/headline-849987-en.html
- $145M: The establishment of the G3 program which provides tuition-free community college available to low- and middle-income students who pursue jobs in high-demand fields
- $94M: The budget makes many investments in early childhood education, the largest of which is $59.5M for the Virginia Preschool Initiative which targets at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds.
- $1.2B: The budget includes funding for a number of K-12 priorities of the Governor, including $145M for teacher raises and $125M in flexible funding for local school systems
- Increases the gas tax by 4 cents annually for 3 years then ties it to the Consumer Price Index.
- Replaces $45M of NVTA revenue diverted to WMATA in 2018
- Administration’s presentation on the transportation elements of the budget: http://sfc.virginia.gov/pdf/transportation/2020/01152020_No1_Valentine.pdf
These weekly updates are meant to provide a snapshot of how the Chamber is advocating on behalf of our members at the General Assembly. If you would like to know how the Chamber is engaging on a topic not included in this update, please contact Vice President of Government Relations Clayton Medford (firstname.lastname@example.org).