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Chamber sees wins in state legislature

Chamber sees wins in state legislature
Chamber sees wins in state legislature
Chamber sees wins in state legislature

Long after the economic upheaval caused by the coronavirus has subsided, legislation making its way through Richmond could be affecting businesses in the Commonwealth.

When Virginia Democrats took control of all three chambers of government in November, they began to push several legislative priorities, including several pieces of pro-worker legislation that business leaders said would hurt small businesses.

Despite those concerns, and the passage of a statewide minimum wage increase, business-friendly-legislation did relatively well this year, said Emily Hasty, executive director of governmental affairs for the Hampton Roads Chamber.

“I am happy to say that we had many wins this session,” Hasty said.

Democrats, including Gov. Ralph Northam, hoped to raise the minimum wage across the state from the previous amount of $7.25 an hour. The final version of the bill that passed the legislature will raise the minimum wage progressively over three years to $12 an hour — increasing it to $9.50 on Jan. 1, $11 in 2022 and $12 in 2023.

After that, the state would complete a study of a regional minimum wage — one that varies by region. Lawmakers would then vote in 2024 whether to continue raising it to $13.50 in 2025 and $15 in 2026.

Though the Chamber opposed any increase, Hasty said the bill that passed was much better than initial versions. She also hoped the bill would be amended in an upcoming one-day reconvened session on April 22.

Cost increases due to the minimum wage bill could be offset by another bill passed during the session, Hasty said. It would allow small employers to band together to buy health insurance coverage through association health plan providers.

Several identical pieces of legislation are intended to kickstart offshore wind in Hampton Roads by defining regulations for the industry and asking companies to identify options for using the local workforce.

“The bills that the chamber helped champion throughout (the) session can and will establish us as a major player in the United States’ offshore wind industry for years to come,” Hasty said.

Several industries in Hampton Roads could benefit from a bill that extends a tax credit program for research and development expenses to 2025. Companies in the biotech and defense industries could benefit from the tax credits, Hasty said.

Lawmakers also signed off on giving Portsmouth and Norfolk the chance to develop casinos, pending a local referendum.

Finally, Hampton Roads cities could get another chance to collaboratively develop an arena with a larger capacity than Scope or Hampton Coliseum. A governor-appointed group would be able issue bonds to finance the project and handle state taxes generated by the arena.

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