Minimum wage bill a murky mess Tomblin should avoid
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is being urged to do something irresponsible – to sign into law a bill that would be bad for West Virginia.
Never mind flaws in the Legislature’s minimum wage bill, the governor is being told. Just sign it. Trust the same lawmakers who got it wrong on the first try to repair it later.
Supporters of House Bill 4283 said it was intended to give West Virginians covered by the state minimum wage law a pay raise. The bill mandates the minimum wage go to $8.75 an hour in two years.
But after the measure passed, an attorney with the respected Bowles Rice law firm analyzed it. He found the bill goes far beyond what most lawmakers thought. It would expand the number of workers covered. It also would change rules on overtime pay.
For example, some local government workers such as firefighters and police officers are covered by rules that recognize special circumstances. Firefighters may work far more than 40 hours in one week, but be compensated by having most or all of the next week off. HB 4283 could require overtime pay for them regardless of other provisions in their schedules. Taxpayers would pay dearly for the change.
Sign it anyway, Tomblin is being urged. That may remind one of what former House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in 2010 of the Obamacare law: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it.”
At least we didn’t know full details of the Obamacare catastrophe then. But we do know about objections to HB 4283.
Signing it, as supporters including state Senate President Jeff Kessler want, then trusting lawmakers to correct flaws would be crazy.
For one thing, businesses and local governments would have no choice but to begin complying with the new rules now. If that happens, rest assured firefighters, police officers and others paid by taxpayers will seek the new overtime pay. Employers will have to cut back, possibly laying off some workers to cover higher minimum wage and overtime standards for others.
Why not simply veto the bill, call the Legislature into special session to correct the flaws, then pass the new version?
Virtually everyone involved has said flaws in the bill were not intentional. But were they?
Who’s to say those urging Tomblin to sign the minimum wage law didn’t understand it all along?
If so, why should West Virginians expect them to change it?