It’s always tricky predicting legislative certainties. The lawmaking process under the Capitol dome includes many hands from myriad interests. Full House and Senate debates on bills are like icebergs; you only see a little because most of the wrangling takes place in committee or behind closed doors.
Even so, here are two significant bills you can count on making it through the 60-day session: The water protection bill and an increase in the minimum wage.
The regulatory soft-spot that allowed Freedom Industries to store a noxious chemical in an aging tank within 1.5 miles of the intake of a water supply has produced the kind of citizen outrage that gets bills moving. Lawmakers are moving at warp speed to pass legislation aimed at preventing another similar disaster.
The Senate passed the bill 33-0-1 earlier this week and now the House begins work on it. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Tim Manchin was guarded when I asked him if he’s satisfied with the Senate bill, meaning there could be some changes, but a bill should be hitting the Governor’s desk pronto.
And because success has many authors, you’ll see a sizable gaggle of lawmakers squeezing in behind Governor Tomblin when he signs the bill.
Meanwhile, Wednesday was the first time legislation raising the state’s minimum wage was taken up and it was a smooth beginning. The House Industry and Labor Committee approved the legislation 18-2, with several Republicans joining Democrats in advancing the bill.
The committee room was crammed to overflowing with labor union representatives and workers. Their presence may have swayed a few lawmakers who were considering voting no.
Conservatives and some economic purists can mount logical arguments against raising the minimum wage–it contributes to higher unemployment and puts a further strain on struggling businesses–but those points are sands against the tide.
West Virginia’s minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour for almost six years. The proposal provides for an increase of $1 in two stages by July 2015.
How many politicians, especially those up for election this year, want to be on record voting against the raise, even if they believe it’s bad economics? The answer is very few. Wednesday, only Republicans Troy Andes (Putnam) and John Overington (Berkeley) voted no.
Not even the state Chamber of Commerce wants to fight this one.
So the minimum wage bill will pass and be signed by the Governor, but here’s a suggestion: at the bill signing, invite the people who will actually be paying the cost–primarily small business owners–to be in the picture.