The beginning of July is an important time for our nation and the Commonwealth. This week we celebrated the 4th of July – the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776 by the Continental Congress declaring the 13 colonies no longer part of Britain’s empire. There have been parades, fireworks and celebrations with friends and family. The official school year has ended and summer sports are in full swing. Think about our children and please drive responsibly in our communities.
Another major date of note is July 1, the enactment date for most newly-passed legislation. With a shrinking press corps in Richmond, throughout the year we have tried to highlight the more significant bills that passed during the General Assembly. I would like to call to your attention to some that may not have crept to the top of the list. From naming state animals to reducing the number of SOL’s, we saw more than one thousand measures introduced and many of them were debated as well.
On the November ballot we will have two constitutional amendments for consideration. I generally oppose constitutional amendments because they often are superfluous and intended to send a message. Why should we tinker with a document that Mason, Madison and Jefferson thoughtfully penned for generations to come? I firmly believe amending the Constitution should be done on the rarest of occasions. Additionally, opening up the historic document for any and all whims is not something I hope anyone would support. With that said, each and every year more amendments are introduced.
There is no mystery that Virginia is a right to work state and to the best of my knowledge there has not been a problem to date. However, you will be asked to vote on the merits of a constitutional amendment that prohibits any agreement or combination between an employer and a labor union to deny the right to work to nonunion members.
There will also be a referendum on whether localities can exempt taxes on the real property of the surviving spouse of any law-enforcement officer, firefighter, search and rescue personnel or emergency medical services personnel killed in the line of duty.
Another bill that may come as a surprise establishes the legal age for marriage as 18 years. However, there is an exemption for a minimum of 16 years with the consent of the parent or guardian in the case of pregnancy. A minor may petition the juvenile and domestic relations court for emancipation based on the minor’s desire to enter into a marriage.
While we would all endorse the idea of working families being able to support themselves, any and all measures to increase the minimum wage quickly met their demise. It seems like simple math to me. Someone working 2,000 hours/year at $7.25/hour cannot possibly make ends meet – particularly with the cost of living in our region. If we thought long and hard about it, it’s not difficult to see how government services are necessary for basic survival at that wage. Fortunately, most Northern Virginia businesses recognize this and treat their employees better than currently required.
It was disappointing to note a downstate legislator thought it necessary to prohibit localities from requiring their contracted vendors to provide a stated wage level for employees that exceeds state or federal levels. It was gratifying to see the Governor veto this bill on the grounds that localities are best able to understand the local needs and availability of the workforce.
While on the topic of the veto pen, fortuitously HB 773, which was known as the Government Non-Discrimination Act, was also one of many vetoes. On the other hand, the Governor of North Carolina signed this license to discriminate and they are realizing the economic impact it has had with major companies and the NCAA leaving the state.
In all, the Governor vetoed 17 bills. To view those measures and the rationale for the veto, I encourage you to visit my website, dicksaslaw.com for more information on the vetoes, the adopted new biennial budget, and additional newly-minted legislation signed into law.
July 1 is the beginning of Virginia’s fiscal year. We are cautiously optimistic that revenue estimates will be met in order to fund the raises for state employees and others. We are still playing catch up when it comes to funding public education – but it is long overdue for us to appropriately fund a developing workforce pipeline necessary for the Commonwealth to be competitive.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at [email protected]