Va. Judge Suspends Blue Law
Lawmakers Urged To Fix Mistake
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 3, 2004; Page B01
RICHMOND, July 2 -- A judge on Friday temporarily suspended enforcement of a mistakenly revived Virginia law that allows employees to demand a "day of rest" on weekends, but representatives of the state's largest businesses urged lawmakers to return to the Capitol to permanently fix their error.
Circuit Court Judge Theodore J. Markow said he was putting the law on hold for 90 days "with great reluctance," pending a review of whether the law violates the U.S. and Virginia constitutions. But he hinted that the review could come much sooner than 90 days.
"My reluctance is, this is really treading on the legislative prerogative," Markow said. "Just because someone says we really didn't mean to do that. . . . We have a process. The legislative process is sacred."
Moments after Markow's comments, a spokesman for Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) urged Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) to call a special session of the General Assembly to revoke the day of rest law.
"Absolutely, the governor should come back and call a special session," said Tim Murtaugh. "This bought us some time, but we're not sure how much."
The law requires employers to grant non-managerial workers a weekend day off or pay fines and triple the worker's salary. The General Assembly resurrected the law from decades of obscurity during the 2004 session by accidentally removing exemptions for most of the state's businesses.
Lawyers for Smithfield Foods, Dominion Virginia Power, International Paper and other large businesses had filed a lawsuit seeking to stop enforcement of the day of rest provision. They praised the judge's decision but said the state needs to go further.
"The gun has sort of been removed from the head and put back in the holster," said Hugh Keogh, president and chief executive of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. "There's no panic. To affect the level of confidence, we may still need a special session."
Senate Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch (R-Henrico) and House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said they believe it is necessary to bring all 140 lawmakers back for a one-day session limited to fixing the day of rest law.
"I'd like to have a 20-minute session. Get in there and get out," Howell said.
Stosch added: "We ought to schedule it as soon as we can. The business community deserves to have this resolved."
Warner, who is vacationing in Idaho, declined to join in the call for a special session. In a statement, he left his options open.
"I am pleased that Judge Markow's injunction allows everyone to take a deep breath," Warner said. "We will continue to work with leaders of the legislature and others on this issue."
As news of the legislature's mistake spread across the state, there was evidence that not everyone thought there was a problem. Some employees seemed eager to take advantage of some time off.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company