Kim Bobo, the executive director of Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, said the 2020 Virginia General Assembly session has been an especially busy one for the organization as they push for a range of legislative priorities. Mostly, she said, the results have been positive, but she would like to see some bills amended before they face a final vote.
VICPP is lobbying for several pieces of legislation that would strengthen worker protections, including laws that would guarantee a minimum of five paid sick days per year for most full-time employees; raise the minimum wage and give employees the ability to file suit against employers for wage theft.
To make these laws effective, Bobo said, it is vital to include provisions for “private cause of action,” the mechanism whereby an employee can file suit directly against their employer instead of having to go through the Department of Labor and Energy.
The latter process, according to Bobo, can be prolonged because of a lack of departmental staff; as a result, employees often have no practical recourse in case an employer does not adhere to labor laws. She is especially concerned, she said, about the “watered-down” Senate bill that guarantees sick leave, because it lacks a provision for private cause of action.
On raising the minimum wage, Bobo is confident that there will be forward motion in this session. “I think there’s no question they’re going to raise the minimum wage,” she said, and VICPP supports the bill that came out of the House. The revised Senate bill, however, is “just horrible,” she said. The text of the Senate bill would create “wage regions” based on “median household incomes and costs of living,” and the minimum wage would be adjusted by region accordingly.
Bobo strongly opposes the creation of these regions. “If you’re in a poor community, you would get a small increase,” she said. “This locks people into poverty.” VIPCC hopes to work with lawmakers in both chambers to create a bill that raises the minimum wage to the same rate across the entire state.
VICPP is also lobbying for a law that would allow immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, to apply for a driver’s license. The House passed a version of the bill that would grant driver’s licenses to qualified applicants, but the Senate version would instead provide for a special “driver’s privilege” card, which Bobo said she opposes. “We really follow what the immigrant community is saying,” she explained. Undocumented immigrants “are really concerned about being singled out” if the privilege-card version of the proposal becomes law.
Both the House and the Senate versions would still require applicants to meet all the regular requirements for a driver’s license; the Senate version would also require applicants to show they have filed an income-tax return. Neither version would grant license holders the right to vote or any other rights reserved for U.S. citizens.
Other efforts, like legislation reining in predatory lending practices, have been a “complete success” so far, Bobo said. She also mentioned bills that would make in-state tuition rates apply to immigrant residents; bring Virginia into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, using funds from the program to reduce the cost of energy or low-income residents; and protect workers who have filed a wage-theft claim from retaliation.
Bobo also said VICPP is pleased with bills that would help ensure that public works, like pipelines, are not put in minority and low-income communities. “Frankly, that is what has happened until now,” she said. “We view most of our work through the lens of poverty,” she added, explaining that VICPP only supports issues that have broad support among the faith community.
Bobo said that members of the assembly are “kind of exhausted” after the flurry of legislation during this session, but that overall, the atmosphere was positive for VICPP’s mission. Bobo singled out State Sen. Jill Vogel (R-Winchester) for praise, saying that her organization is appreciative of the senator’s support on bills that sometimes faced opposition from Republicans. In an email, VICPP said that the bills Vogel supported “will have a real and positive impact on people across Virginia.”