Va. Error Reinstates Blue Law
Workers Can Insist On Sundays Off
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 2, 2004; Page A01
RICHMOND, July 1 -- Virginia's legislature and governor have accidentally resurrected an archaic law that allows employees to demand Sunday as a "day of rest," throwing many of the state's business leaders into a panic about the possibility that stores, airlines, hospitals and factories might be forced to shut down on weekends.
House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said Thursday that a special session of the legislature may be the only way to rectify the problem, which was the byproduct of efforts during this year's General Assembly session to rid the state code of outdated provisions.
"I'm really not sure how else to handle it," Howell said. "It's a shame it happened, but it did, and I think it needs to be fixed."
A spokesman for Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) said he expects a group of businesses to file a lawsuit Friday morning seeking an injunction to delay enforcement of the law.
"We will not oppose them," said Tucker Martin, Kilgore's spokesman. "There clearly needs to be a full hearing on the constitutionality of these laws. This is a temporary solution."
Business organizations, which discovered the goof just days before the change in law took effect Thursday, declared that a financial crisis would result if the government did not find a way to void the laws that have existed since the 1600s.
They said small retail stores could be forced to close on Sundays if their only employees demanded the day off. Factories that work seven-day shifts could experience a sharp drop in productivity. And even holiday shopping in November and December could be affected, they warned.
"It's huge. You look across the breadth of the commonwealth and look at the variety and type of businesses that operate on Sunday. It's endless," said Keith Cheatham, director of government affairs for the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. "If everybody decided they wanted Sundays off as a matter of right, the potential is there for a major disruption."
In Northern Virginia, business groups informed their members and assessed the potential for confusion.
Not everyone foresaw disaster. Jim Deuel, general manager of the Dulles Hyatt hotel, said the law probably would not wreak havoc with the hotel's operations. The 316-room hotel has a policy of accommodating employees who want to take a weekend day for religious reasons, he said.
"Realistically, most employees in this industry work on days where there's work available," said Deuel, adding that only 15 to 20 of the hotel's 150 employees are needed for weekend duty. "If it's a Sunday or Saturday and that's their chosen day for religious worship, then they work around that day."
Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) is in Idaho on a white-water rafting vacation and could not be reached for comment. His press secretary, Ellen Qualls, said the governor is supportive of other ways besides a special session to resolve the problem.
"There are obviously costs associated with [calling lawmakers into a special session] and disruption to their lives," Qualls said. "If there is a simpler way to fix this, that would be the governor's preference."
State labor officials, members of Warner's staff and lawyers in Kilgore's office struggled throughout Thursday to find a workable solution.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company