Sundays-Off Law Got By Many Officials
Businesses Worried About Clause Want Special Assembly Session
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 7, 2004; Page B01
RICHMOND, July 6 -- The legislation that mistakenly resurrected a Virginia law granting workers Sundays off was reviewed by the legislature's legal department, two Cabinet secretaries, three lawyers in the attorney general's office and several of Gov. Mark R. Warner's top advisers, according to documents provided by Warner's office.
None of them caught the mistake.
Instead, it was a young labor lawyer at a private firm who months later noticed that millions of Virginia employees had suddenly been granted new rights to demand time off on weekends. The law requires employers to grant non-managerial workers a weekend day off or pay fines and triple the worker's pay rate. 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the 2004 session by accidentally removing exemptions for most of the state's businesses while trying to eliminate four out-of-date provisions of the blue laws, which forbid businesses to be open on Sundays.
A coalition of business leaders on Tuesday again urged Warner to call a special legislative session to fix the mistake, which could force businesses to pay employees who work on weekends triple time. The group of businesses -- including CVS, Eckerd, HCA, International Paper, Kmart, Rite Aid and Sheetz -- said a judge's ruling last week that temporarily prohibits enforcement of the legislation does not provide enough legal finality.
"It only serves to hold the confusion and damage to Virginia's businesses in abeyance for a relatively short period of time," the group said in a statement. Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) also said a special session is necessary because "this matter is far from resolved."
A spokeswoman for Warner (D), who is vacationing, said the governor is resisting the pressure to act hastily to bring all 140 delegates and senators back to Richmond, even just for a day.
"His preference would be that we resolve this without the cost and disruption of a session," Ellen Qualls said. "But that still is an option."
A one-day session could cost tens of thousands of dollars in administrative costs. Lawmakers are typically paid per diems and are reimbursed for travel expenses.
Top lawmakers said they are investigating the possibility of calling themselves back into session without the governor's directive. That would take a written petition signed by two-thirds of the lawmakers in each chamber.
"It would be the simplest if the governor would call a special session," said G. Paul Nardo, the chief aide to House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford). "But we're doing our due diligence."
In the meantime, longtime Richmond politicians, lobbyists and other observers are marveling at how the state's lawmaking process broke down.
The trouble started when the Division of Legislative Services, which acts as the legislature's legal office, drafted Senate Bill 659 for Sen. Frederick M. Quayle (R-Chesapeake). It read simply: "Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia: That §§ 18.2-341, 18.2-342, 18.2-343, and 40.1-28.5 of the Code of Virginia are repealed."
According to the governor's tracking folder, the legislative services lawyers indicated no concerns about the bill on March 3, 2004, after it had passed both chambers -- 40 to 0 in the Senate and 88 to 9 in the House.
The bill was sent to the Department of Planning and Budget, which indicated that it would have no impact on the state budget. That memo was signed by Secretary of Finance John M. Bennett on April 1.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company