|Wednesday, July 14, 2004
General Assembly puts in single day of work to fix 'day of rest' gaffe
|4-line readin goes here.
By Michael Sluss
RICHMOND - A chagrined General Assembly calmed the fears of Virginia's business community Tuesday by fixing a legislative error that had inadvertently revived an antiquated "day of rest" entitlement for many workers.
In an extraordinary one-day special session, lawmakers reinstated a host of exemptions to a law that imposes penalties on businesses that force employees to work on their Sabbath. The General Assembly mistakenly repealed the exemptions earlier this year while scrapping unconstitutional Sunday "blue laws" from the state code. The error escaped the attention of lawmakers, their staffs and lawyers in the executive branch of state government.
"Let's face it - this one got by a lot of folks," Gov. Mark Warner said shortly after the Senate and House of Delegates passed legislation (SB 6002) reinstating the exemptions.
The emergency legislation became law as soon as Warner signed it Tuesday afternoon.
Warner reluctantly called lawmakers into session after major Virginia businesses expressed alarm about the possible consequences of the flawed legislation on factories, utility companies, retailers and other industries. The antiquated "day of rest" law requires business to pay workers three times their normal wages if they work on their chosen Sabbath day. The law also imposes fines for businesses that force employees to work on Saturday or Sunday.
After becoming aware of the error in the original bill, some major Virginia companies asked a Richmond circuit judge earlier this month to suspend enforcement of the law until the General Assembly could correct the mistake.
"I regret the fact that we had to come back to do this," said Sen. Frederick Quayle, R-Chesapeake, who sponsored the flawed bill during the legislature's winter session and crafted the measure that fixed the mistake.
"I think a lot of us have learned a lesson," Quayle said on the Senate floor.
The Senate passed the emergency bill 36-0 after its Commerce and Labor Committee exhaustively scrutinized the legislation. Lawyers and lobbyists who paid little attention to Quayle's original bill closely monitored Tuesday's deliberations.
The House passed the bill by a vote of 79-1, with Del. Mitch Van Yahres, D-Charlottesville, casting the lone dissenting vote. Van Yahres noted that lawmakers' had answered the calls of alarm from businesses, but said: "I still haven't heard anyone speak up for the employees."
Some lawmakers raised the possibility of carving out additional exemptions to the "day of rest" law next year to protect a broader range of businesses. But legislators and the governor were content Tuesday to simply fix an immediate problem that had caught them by surprise.
"So this patches the tire?" asked Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Henry County, during a brief House floor debate on the emergency bill.
"I would say to the gentleman that is an apt description," answered House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith, R-Salem.
Griffith said lawmakers must pay greater attention in the future to bills that repeal portions of the code, but he also added that gaffes such as this are rare in Virginia's part-time legislature.
"With 3,000 bills a session, it's amazing this doesn't happen more often," Griffith said.
Warner acknowledged that "there were lots of places along the way where this slipped through without the full consequences of the bill being ascertained."
After the mistake was discovered, Warner said: "There was a real feeling of 'whoops!'"