*A correction has been made to this story.
WINCHESTER — Bills to ban assault weapons and to raise the minimum wage are moving forward in the General Assembly.
Tuesday was the General Assembly’s “Crossover Day” — the midpoint in the session in which bills must advance through either the House of Delegates or the Senate to avoid being killed for the session. No new bills may be introduced after Crossover Day.
Bills approved by one chamber will be considered by the other side in the upcoming weeks, with both sides negotiating over differences. Final versions of the bills will be sent to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam for approval.
With Democrats in control of the state legislature, most of the party’s initiatives are advancing.
On Tuesday, the House of Delegates voted 51-48 to pass HB 961, which would prohibit the sale, transport and purchase of assault firearms and large capacity magazines. A violation is a Class 6 felony. The ban includes certain semiautomatic firearms as well as the possession of magazines that hold more than 12 rounds. Possession of any large-capacity firearm magazine will be a class 1 misdemeanor. An earlier version of the bill would have made possession a class 6 felony.
Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke, voted in favor of the bill while Del. Chris Collins, R-Frederick County, and Del. Dave LaRock, R-Hamilton, voted against it.
“This is a watered-down version of what was first proposed but is still a horrible bill,” LaRock said in an email to The Star. “This, if passed into law, will impose harsh penalties on millions of people who acquired firearms legally. No evidence has been presented to support this massive overreach of government. Think about the 12-round limit, which would restrict most common handguns. Does someone think a bad guy will not just acquire two 12-round guns or just ignore the law altogether? This is a cure in search of a problem and needs to die before being passed into law.”
Any person who legally owns an assault firearm by July 1, 2020, may retain possession of such assault firearm, but further purchases will be prohibited.
“Elections have results,” said Gooditis in a message. “The majority of Virginians are in favor of taking steps in the effort to minimize gun violence. HB 961 balances public safety with the rights of responsible gun owners. It ends the sale of military-style semi-automatic weapons while letting gun owners keep what they’ve bought. It prohibits high-capacity magazines while preserving the right to own a suppressor. I’m proud of the compromise we achieved, working to keep our community safer while ensuring we respect the Second Amendment.”
A Senate measure banning assault weapons didn’t move forward, so the Senate will now consider HB 961.
Another major Democratic initiative has been raising Virginia’s minimum wage, and bills have passed both the House and the Senate. The House passed HB 395 with a 55-45 vote.
The bill will increase the minimum wage from its current federally mandated rate of $7.25 per hour to $10 per hour effective July 1, 2020. Each subsequent year, until 2025, the minimum wage will be increased. It will be raised to $11.25 per hour effective July 1, 2021, to $12 per hour effective July 1, 2022, to $13 per hour effective July 1, 2023, to $14 per hour effective July 1, 2024 and to $15 per hour effective July 1, 2025, unless a higher minimum wage is required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
“We are proud that Virginia ranks at the top in terms of being a great place for business, but in the last [few] years, the workers who make those businesses thrive have not gotten the consideration they deserve,” Gooditis said. “We have survived minimum wage raises before, and we will survive this one, as we work to provide a living wage for those whose work is so vital to our businesses, our comfort, and our economy.”
Collins, however, feared that raising the minimum wage will result in higher unemployment since businesses and farms may not be able to pay the higher wages. He said many labor-intensive jobs that offer starting salaries of $18 are already struggling to find employees.
LaRock also voted against the minimum wage increase. “I want people to have better jobs that pay more but this will have the opposite effect,” LaRock said. “Employers will hire fewer people in entry-level positions. These are the first jobs that help people enter the workforce. I fully support helping people and programs that advance workforce training and efforts to benefit workers by keeping the economy strong.”
The Senate version of the minimum wage legislation, SB 7, incrementally increases the minimum wage statewide to $11.50 by July 1, 2023. After July 1, 2024, the state will be divided into regions based on median family incomes. Hourly wages will increase based on the average income in the region. The Senate bill passed with a 21-19 vote, with Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville, voting against it.
Other legislation that has passed either the House, Senate or both includes: protecting LGBTQ Virginians from discrimination in housing and employment; allowing localities to move Confederate monuments; ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment; eliminating Lee-Jackson Day; decriminalizing marijuana possession and loosening restrictions on abortion.