The legislative session began on Wednesday, Jan.10, and it promises to be a very bizarre year after the 2017 election and fiasco that followed. I am hopeful that we can come to some kind of power sharing agreement that will allow us to get to work for the good of the Commonwealth.
The drama has not slowed down my legislative agenda, which includes measures that will grow our economy and provide better jobs for all Virginians, repeals lingering “Jim Crow” laws in the Minimum Wage Act, and improves the experience of our teachers.
I will join my house colleagues to support Medicaid Expansion to ensure affordable healthcare in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and provide for nonpartisan redistricting reform. I will continue to fight for seat belt safety and other common sense legislation.
I wrote previously about HB 8, my legislation to allow Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on state contracts — this will be a key item in my legislative agenda, along with the Apprenticeship Utilization Act (HB 557), which will set a 15 percent floor on the number of apprentices working on large state contracts. This will create needed wage growth for hard-working Virginians and ensure that our state projects with PLAs benefit young people in the building trades.
In my efforts to draft legislation to update the minimum wage, I noticed that many minimum wage exemptions to the definition of “employee” were holdovers from the Jim Crow era. Not counted in the definition of employee are “farm laborer or farm employee;” “Any person employed in domestic service or in or about a private home;” “Newsboys, shoe-shine boys, caddies on golf courses, ushers, doormen, concession attendants and cashiers in theaters;” “taxicab drivers and operators;” — all categories of workers that were historically held by African Americans. It’s 2018 now and past time to make these changes.
Also, another category that still pays subminimum wage and needs to be updated is “Any person whose earning capacity is impaired by physical deficiency, mental illness, or intellectual disability.” Maryland removed this exemption from their minimum wage statute and it is the right thing to do. The goal should be to promote opportunities for all working-age individuals to gain compensated employment at or above the minimum wage within an integrated setting, with or without supports, engaging employers that value the contributions of their employees with disabilities.
Other labor legislation I will carry this year include employee protections against wage theft and the deliberate misclassification of employees.
Looking out for working-class Virginians is my top priority this year. That is why I have also introduced HB 47, which will end the practice of predatory payday lending in Virginia.
Regarding education policy, I will patron HB 380, also known as a “Grow Your Own Teacher” program that will establish a fund to provide scholarships to low-income high school graduates who are committed to attend a baccalaureate institution of higher education in the Commonwealth and to subsequently teach in high-need public schools in their school divisions of residence.
This measure would help address the teacher shortage in low-income school districts.
I am looking forward to informing you on the status of these bills in the coming weeks. Please don’t hesitate to visit my office at any time in Richmond during the session. It is an honor and pleasure to serve as your state representative in the Virginia General Assembly.