Lawmakers introduced 3,899 bills in the 2020 General Assembly Session. The pieces of legislation considered most relevant to the business community include Association Health Plans, increase to the minimum wage, the defeat of the repeal of Right-to-Work, and support of offshore wind development.
Your Hampton Roads Chamber engaged and collaborated to help shape policies to support a pro-business environment. One of the most significant victories for the business community this year was the defeat of the repeal of Right-to-Work. Suzy Kelly, CEO of Jo-Kell, expressed that, "This policy has allowed our company to grow and expand in Virginia over the last 40 years from a small business working out of a garage to over 75 employees today." The Right-to-Work law was established on January 12, 1947, and made Virginia the fifth oldest RTW state in the United States. This law guarantees, “No person can be compelled, as a condition of employment, to join or not to join, nor to pay dues to a labor union." RTW laws are crucial to maintaining Virginia's competitiveness. Virginia regained the top state for business by CNBC in 2019, due in part to right-to-work. Companies also consider RTW laws as a significant factor in deciding where to locate or expand. Companies will look to other states to set up operations if Virginia's RTW law is changed, putting the state at a competitive disadvantage. The Hampton Roads Chamber governmental affairs team met with legislators, participated in press conferences, spoke in committee meetings to express opposition to the repeal of RTW. As a result, both bills targeting this law, HB153 and SB426, were defeated.
The Hampton Roads Chamber heard from many of our members concerning the increase in the minimum wage. When the 2020 General Assembly Session convened, it was apparent that one of the priorities of the new majority was to raise the minimum wage. Chamber staff and volunteers represented the business community and expressed your concerns to all of the members of the General Assembly. While the bill to increase the minimum wage passed in the House and Senate, many legislators worked to make compromises to lessen the harmful effects to businesses. The result of the bill includes the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority, and the Virginia Employment Commission conducting a joint study beginning January 1, 2022. They will then decide to re-authorize the scheduled increase in the minimum wage to $15 by 2026. If they do not re-authorize the rate schedule, Virginia could remain at $12 an hour minimum wage. While we did not consider this the most optimal result, we feel legislators heard stakeholders and will recognize the potential consequences moving forward.
The Hampton Roads Chamber also championed support of offshore wind development this Session. Many bills passed the House and Senate developing facilities and requirements to ensure the creation of offshore wind. The commercial-scale offshore wind project enabled by the legislation is the single most significant opportunity for the 757 in recent memory. The potential impact on the regional economy and workforce cannot be overstated. In essence, we are talking about millions of dollars of investment in our communities and thousands of new jobs in manufacturing, construction, maintenance, and logistics. The offshore wind supply chain is an economic powerhouse currently concentrated in Europe. The bills that the Hampton Roads Chamber helped champion throughout Session can and will establish this region as a significant player in the United States' offshore wind industry for years to come.
The final highlight of the 2020 General Assembly Session was the Association Health Plans bill. SB861 is bipartisan legislation that will allow benefits consortiums to expand healthcare options to business owners and their employees. This legislation will lead to lower healthcare costs for many Virginians while maintaining healthcare standards under the Affordable Care Act. A small business could save an estimate of 15 percent on healthcare costs each year under this framework. The Hampton Roads Chamber is pleased this measure passed the House and Senate with true dedication to seeing this bill to the Governor’s desk.
The Hampton Roads Chamber's philosophy is to inform, engage, and collaborate to shape public policy in support of a pro-business environment. Our governmental affairs team’s significant contact with elected officials, collaboration with peer Chambers in Prince William County, Northern Virginia, Richmond, as well as the Virginia State Chamber and daily lobbying are measures of the commitment to being an impactful advocate for our business community. Your Chamber will continue to advocate on your behalf and strive to cultivate pro-business policy.