This week from Charleston
The biggest news of the week was that Governor Tomblin signed the minimum wage bill. HB 4283 increased West Virginia’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.75 per hour over two years. There was a last-ditch effort to derail the bill. One of the most curious aspects of campaign to get the Governor to veto the bill was that many of the points raised had not been raised until after both the House and the Senate had passed the bill. This was a real failure by the lobbyists and organizations that would be impacted by the bill. If they had concerns, they should have raised the concerns while we were working the bills, not after the work had been completed. One complaint was that the bill eliminated most of the exemptions in West Virginia Code and that the new minimum wage would apply to a lot more workers. HB 4283’s reforms are long overdue and common sense. In contrast to most states, our minimum wage law currently excludes most employers. That means that most raises in the minimum wage are only token, political gestures. I, for one, did not want to raise the minimum wage as a PR stunt. I wanted it to have a real impact.
West Virginia law currently excludes from coverage employers if 80 percent of the persons employed by the employer are subject to the federal minimum wage law. Since the federal minimum wage law broadly covers most employers, this means that under current West Virginia law, most employers in West Virginia are not subject to the state’s minimum wage law requirements. West Virginia is one of the only states in the country that currently defines its minimum wage law to effectively exclude most employers from coverage. Perversely, under the current structure, when West Virginia raises its minimum wage, only some of the very smallest employers that are not covered by the federal minimum must pay the higher wages. Large companies covered under federal law are effectively let off the hook if West Virginia raises its minimum wage rate above the federal minimum wage rate, and only have to pay the lower minimum wage rate. This bill closes the loophole and brings the state minimum wage law in line with other states by requiring that all employers and especially large profitable chains based out of state must comply with both the state and federal minimum wage law. This was never a flaw in the bill. Rather, it was a feature.
The second objection is that by changing the wage law, it will change overtime rules. The Governor will call us in for a special session to tweak this part of the law. Many do not believe that it needs tweaked, but I am certainly open to hearing concerns regarding potential unintended consequences.
One of the surprises of the last week was the Governor’s veto of HB 4588, the abortion bill. Obviously, this was an incredibly controversial bill: it banned all abortions after twenty weeks, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Almost identical bills had already been found to be unconstitutional in Arizona and Idaho. The key to constitutionality is generally viability of the fetus. In this bill, there was a hard line date and no mention of viability. Aside from the critical issue of the constitutionality of the bill, it would have also created criminal sanctions for doctors and required a registry of every abortion regardless of the time. Regardless of where one is on the spectrum of regulating women’s healthcare decisions, this bill would not have passed constitutional muster and would have created needless expense and litigation.