The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Virginia Republicans advance bill to freeze minimum-wage increases

Virginia Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) gestures during the House session at the state Capitol on Monday. (Steve Helber/AP)

The Virginia House of Delegates passed a Republican bill on Tuesday that would freeze the state’s minimum wage at $11 an hour and overturn scheduled incremental raises that would bring the floor to $15 in 2026.

Though the bill is not likely to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate, it serves as an example of how newly in-power Republicans are seeking to roll back key legislation that was passed under unified Democratic leadership over the past two years.

The bill, introduced by Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper), passed the House along party lines, 51-48, Tuesday afternoon. Freitas’s bill proposes eliminating raises outlined in a law passed in 2020, which increased the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 an hour with incremental raises scheduled every year until 2026 when the minimum wage would reach $15 an hour.

The first raise was initially intended to take effect in 2020 but was postponed to avoid burdening businesses already struggling with the economic crisis brought on by the first months of the coronavirus pandemic. The first raise to $9.50 went into effect in May 2021, then increased again to $11 an hour Jan. 1. The next increase is scheduled for Jan. 1, 2023, when the floor would reach $12 an hour. Freitas’s bill would nix that raise.

Fewer Americans are earning less than $15 an hour, but Black and Hispanic women make up a bigger share of them

“We believe in good economic policy, ultimately because we think it helps the most amount of people,” Freitas said in an interview after the bill passed. “And so when we can roll back policy that I think is going to create an environment where it’s harder to hire low-skilled workers, or people who are trying to break into the marketplace, I think that’s positive for constituents.”

Senate Democrats killed a similar bill in committee earlier this legislative session.

On Monday, during debate on the house floor, Freitas, who discussed a number of economic studies, said he thought continuing to raise the minimum wage would limit job availability for those seeking their first jobs.

“I’m arguing on behalf of being in that position where I needed that first job, and I didn’t need a politician standing in between me and my potential employer and telling me that I was not allowed to have it, or telling me that there was something lacking in my righteousness if I wanted the freedom to negotiate that wage,” Freitas said.

The bill brought a full debate Monday from Democrats who opposed the bill, notably Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville), a labor economist at the University of Virginia.

‘That raise meant nothing’: Inflation is wiping out pay increases for most Americans

Following some debate referencing the Bible’s Book of Matthew, Hudson said: “It’s not the Book of Matthew that tells us why the minimum wage doesn’t hurt low-wage workers. It’s the book of Joshua and of David — not the prophets, but Joshua Angrist and David Card. They were awarded the Nobel Prize in economics last year for 30 years of work, establishing that the predictions that raising the minimum wage lowers net income from low-wage workers just don’t pan out in practice.”

Hudson, who said Angrist was her thesis adviser at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then cited economic principles that demonstrate benefits of raising the minimum wage.

“There is friction and inertia and leverage in the tug-of-war between business owners and workers and the customers they serve,” Hudson said. “And that sometimes, in the face of a noncompetitive market, there is scope for government to intervene and level the playing field and generate gains for the greater good of all.”