Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) said Wednesday that he is likely to call lawmakers back for a special session, perhaps as early as Tuesday, to undo legislation that mistakenly granted employees the right to demand time off on the weekend.
The law requires employers to grant non-managerial workers a weekend day off or triple the worker's pay and be subject to fines. Lawmakers accidentally resurrected the obsolete law during their extended 2004 General Assembly session as they were trying to rid the state code of outdated provisions. In this case, though, they inadvertently removed exemptions to the "day of rest" law for most of the state's businesses.
Warner, who had resisted the idea of a special session since the discovery of the mistake last week, relented under continuing pressure from lawmakers and business leaders, who said the state's modern economy could suffer if large numbers of employees began demanding weekends off.
"The governor, in consultation with legislative leaders, is now inclined to call a special session," Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said late Wednesday. Warner, who is on vacation in Wyoming, did not comment directly. But Qualls said Warner will wait to make a final decision until he gets assurances from business leaders that the only action they will seek at the special session is a return to the status quo.
That could happen Thursday morning in a planned conference call between senior administration officials and business officials, Qualls said.
House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and Senate President Pro Tem John H. Chichester (R-Stafford) issued a joint statement Wednesday saying they agree that there is a need to bring lawmakers back to Richmond for a one-day meeting.
"After significant communications with and among leaders in commerce, labor and state government, we agree there is but one way to quickly and decisively resolve a pressing public policy issue now before us," the state's leading Republican lawmakers said.
Howell and Chichester said in their statement that they would not accept the per diem reimbursements that normally are paid to lawmakers when they are in session. They urged the other lawmakers to do the same if a special session is called.
If every lawmaker attended a one-day session and collected their per diems, the total cost to the state would be $25,905, not counting mileage reimbursements.
The pair called those "sizable costs for such a short, but necessary special session."
Virginia's lawmakers already have met more days this year than ever before. The 2004 session, scheduled to last 60 days, dragged on for 115 as legislators clashed over Warner's push for a tax increase. In the end, the General Assembly increased taxes by $1.4 billion over two years.
In the meantime, though, the group of weary lawmakers and state officials overlooked the problems with the day of rest law, as it's known.
Legislative lawyers, Warner administration officials and lawyers for the attorney general all missed the mistake after the bill passed the legislature. Warner then signed it.
It was caught by a young lawyer for a private firm late last month after business leaders asked him to look into the issue.