One of the dangerous aspects of lawmaking is unintended consequences. Legislators pass a law only to learn later that the language makes a change that was not contemplated.
That’s what we have with HB 4283, the bill passed by the West Virginia Legislature this year raising then state’s minimum wage. The intent was to increase the base pay for entry level workers by $1.50 over the next two years, meaning the minimum wage would rise to $8.75 by 2016.
Supporters argued the increase is overdue; the state’s minimum wage has been at $7.25 an hour since 2008. Lawmakers did not say so publicly, but privately they acknowledged that the raise would be good election year politics.
However, legislators apparently made a mistake… a big one. Brian Peterson, an employment attorney for the law firm Bowles Rice, has researched the bill and determined that, as written, it will dramatically change overtime rules.
Currently, nearly all West Virginia employers are covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. That law includes many employee classifications that are exempt from overtime rules–computer professionals, commissioned sales people, seasonal and recreational employees, railroad employees, drivers and mechanics—over 50 in all. The federal law also includes narrow exemptions for firefighters, police officers, hospital and residential care employees.
Peterson says the bill providing for the increase in minimum wage is written in a way that eliminates those exemptions, dramatically increasing the number of employees in the state who would have to be paid time-and-a-half after 40 hours.
It’s not just private businesses that would be impacted. Peterson believes municipalities would suddenly face significantly higher costs for fire and police protection, costs that would have to be passed on to taxpayers.
Word is getting out, and Governor Tomblin is hearing from government and business leaders, such as Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce President Terry Sterling, who are worried about the bill.
“The unintended result is that all West Virginia employers with six or more employees would be required to comply with state overtime requirements that otherwise have not been updated since 1982,” Sterling wrote in a letter to Tomblin. “Making the situation even worse, the overtime law changes made by House Bill 4283 would take effect June 6, 2014, leaving employers just a matter of weeks to scramble to comply with the provisions.”
West Virginia regional jail officials say they would have to calculate overtime differently for correctional officers, adding an estimated $3 million to payroll costs.
It’s evident that the bill, if it becomes law as written, would be a disaster.
The intent of lawmakers was to raise the minimum wage, not fundamentally change how overtime is calculated by thousands of West Virginia employers. The Governor should veto the bill.
Lawmakers have to report back to Charleston before the June 30th end of the fiscal year to clear up some budget issues. They can fix the minimum wage bill then.