March 10, 2006

WV WAGE BILL SURVIVES AMENDMENTS

It looks like minimum wage bill HB 4023 survived some attempts to kill it by amending it Friday. One amendment was approved which would make the bill apply to state workers, a few of whom would be affected when the bill goes fully into effect. This took a lot of work by a lot of people, so thanks to all who worked for this.

On Saturday, the bill is up for third reading and a final floor vote in the senate. I think we're past the amendment point, but nothing would surprise me anymore.

El Cabrero would really like to write about other topics. Less often.

Keep the incense and candles burning and don't stop playing Bob Marley music for good luck. A call or two on Saturday wouldn't hurt.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: BETTER THAN LAST TIME

WV MINIMUM WAGE: NOT DEAD YET

Fans of classical Greek literature will recall those scenes from the Iliad where the tides of battle swept back and forth between Greeks and Trojans. To decide the fate of various warriors, Zeus, the god of thunder, would take out his sacred golden scales and weigh their destinies.

That's pretty much the way I hear it's going today at the legislature today. At last report, there was an effort to amend the bill to include state employees. The cynical interpretation of this is that the amendment was proposed in order to kill the bill. Reportedly, it turns out that only a handful of people (50 or so) would be affected, which is not a big deal. So it wouldn't be a deal breaker.

Short version: we're not there yet but we're not dead yet. The bill may go to second reading this evening. If you call, probably the best message to your senator is please pass HB 4023 and don't accept any amendments that would kill the bill.

The scales of Zeus will have to tilt one way or another by midnight tomorrow.

Contact information posted below.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: OLYMPIAN (THE MOUNTAIN AND MYTHOLOGICAL DWELLING PLACE OF THE GREEK GODS, NOT THE GAMES)

NOT SO FAST: NEW THREAT TO WV MINIMUM WAGE BILL

I don't know about y'all but this is starting to get on my last nerve. The latest word is that a last ditch effort may be made today to kill HB 4023, which would raise the state minimum wage, by proposing bogus amendments. All, despite the fact that it overwhelmingly passed the House of Delegates and made it through three Senate Committees.

This is getting to be like one of those video games where things get worse as you move up each level. At the risk of being a broken record, West Virginians who care about fair wages for workers need to charge once more unto the breach...

Your support has moved the bill this far: please be patient enough to call your senators again and urge them to pass HB 4023 as it stands.

If you are not sure who your senator is:

Click here for the Senate District Map. http://www.legis.state.wv.us/districts/sd/sd.cfm

The District that your senator is in will match the number on the Map.

Once you find the senator that represents you:
Click here for their contact information: http://www.legis.state.wv.us/Contact/capmail.cfm

If you will be calling long distance the toll free telephone number is ... 1-877-565-3447
When using the toll free number you will be connected to Legislative Services and you will need to request your Senator by name.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: BACK UP WHERE IT USED TO BE AND THEN SOME

March 09, 2006

WV MINIMUM WAGE BILL PASSES THIRD COMMITTEE, MOVES TO FLOOR

Late Thursday afternoon, HB 4023 passed the Senate Finance Committee, the third and last major hurdle before it reaches a floor vote. Many observers were skeptical of the bill's chances when it was referenced to three committees in the senate, but evidently strong popular support helped to keep it alive.

Ordinarily hitting the floor is not a positive thing, but this time it is. We're not out of the woods yet, but the major danger now is running out of time before it comes to the floor. This session of the legislature is set to close by midnight Saturday.

Supporters of a fair wage for working people should continue burning incense and votive candles, invoking the Higher Power of their choice, and playing lots of Bob Marley music.

All I know is, if this goes through, the goats are going to be insufferable.


GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: CAUTIOUSLY GRATEFUL

MINIMUM WAGE, HEALTH CARE, AND GRATUITOUS ANIMAL PICTURE POLICY STATEMENT

The West Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday evening to move forward on HB 4023, which would increase the state minimum wage in three stages to $7.25 by June 2008. It is now scheduled for second reading in the senate but must make it through the Finance Committee before reaching the floor.

Again, this is a very encouraging step. It won't cover everyone, but it's a start and we can work in the future to expand it. Progress in social and economic justice is often incremental. When the Children's Health Insurance Program was first proposed here, it didn't cover all children but it has since been greatly expanded (more on this below). Come to think of it, even something as hugely important as the Emancipation Proclamation applied to practically nobody at the time it was issued.

There is still time for West Virginians to call their senators using the toll free capitol switchboard number, 1-877-565-3447. It would be especially useful for people who live in districts represented by committee members to contact them. Link: http://www.legis.state.wv.us/committees/senate/finance/sencomFIN.cfm).

At this time, the committee schedule has not been posted. Check back for more information as the situation develops.

WHY THIS IS SO IMPORTANT: The campaign to raise the minimum wage in West Virginia is one of many going on around the country. (For more information on state and national campaigns, click on the Let Justice Roll link.) Ultimately, the goal is to use the momentum from the states to raise the federal minimum wage and promote policies based on shared prosperity.

HEALTH CARE

It looks like the legislature has reached a compromise on health care expansion which includes Governor Manchin's proposals to expand basic insurance and primary care at affordable rates and the expansion of CHIP to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, which should cover about 3000 more children. Families eligible would pay premiums to the program. CHIP currently covers families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Finally, the bill will create a panel of experts to explore ways of providing affordable health care to the approximately 250,000 uninsured West Virginia adults. Again, it's not universal and comprehensive care, but it is a decent step in the right direction.

COMING ATTRACTIONS (YES, INCLUDING ANIMAL PICTURES)

It has come to the attention of El Cabrero that people tend to post comments mostly in response to gratuitous animal pictures. I apologize, but it can't be all animal pictures all the time, just as one cannot or at least should not live solely on beer and popcorn, however much we would like to. Still, this weekend's Goat Rope plans to include another exclusive animal interview and photo session to wrap up legislative coverage. And next week, I hope to return more to dealing with national issues.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED

March 08, 2006

MINIMUM WAGE BILL CLEARS A HURDLE

The West Virginia Senate Labor Committee passed HB 4023 this morning with some discussion but little debate. It now moves to Senate Judiciary, although the committee meeting has not been scheduled yet.

The bill was unamended from the House version. Due to some definitions and exemptions in the state code, this will not cover all minimum wage workers. Still, it would be a good step in the right direction and could possibly be expanded in future sessions.

Arcadia S. Venus, featured two posts back, was unavailable for comment as she was busy eating the bark of a formerly thriving grove of sumacs.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: COULD BE WORSE

WV SENATE COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER WAGE BILL TODAY

The West Virginia Senate Labor Committee is set to take up HB 4023 today at 9:00 am in Room 208W of the State Capitol. The bill would raise the state minimum wage in three steps to $7.25 by June 30, 2008. It is not clear at this point whether amendments to the bill to make it cover more workers (see Monday’s post) will be considered or whether indeed it will advance from this committee.

The bill is triple-referenced in the WV Senate, meaning in this case that it must advance from Labor to the Judiciary Committee and then to the Finance Committee of the Senate unless rules are suspended. The regular session of the legislature ends by midnight Saturday.

Ordinarily, when a bill is triple-referenced, this is a sign that the leadership in question does not want the bill to move. However, the fact that it made onto the Labor Committee’s agenda during the last few days of the session is itself encouraging. Stay tuned.

For more information about how the minimum wage is good for business, check this op-ed in today's Charleston Gazette: http://wvgazette.com/section/Editorials/Viewpoint/200603077.


GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: TOO SOON TO TELL

March 07, 2006

GOATS TO WV LEGISLATURE: RAISE THE MINIMUM WAGE


In a rare statement on public policy, the United Cabrines and Surly Quadrupeds of America (UCSQA) weighed in on the minimum wage bill now before the West Virginia legislature. UCSQA leader Arcadia S. Venus, pictured above, urged the state senate to pass HB 4023, which would raise the state minimum in three stages to $7.25 by 2008.

If the measure fails to pass, Venus urged low wage workers to "jump over the fence and start eating their gardens." The UCSQA is known for its advocacy of militant direct action tactics, such as eating the bark of ornamental trees and deliberately wasting hay.

State law enforcement agencies declined official comment on likely responses if the estimated 20,000 minimum wage workers in the state followed Venus' advice, although one official, speaking under the condition of anonymity, acknowledged it would indeed be "a goat rope."

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: PRETTY MUCH WHAT YOU WOULD EXPECT

March 06, 2006

MINIMUM WAGE UPDATE

West Virginia is one of several states where a campaign is in progress to raise the minimum wage. While in some states this is done through a ballot initiative, here the process is legislative. Below is an update for those following the state campaign and also may be useful for those elsewhere who may be able to avoid a snag that we have encountered.

MINIMUM WAGE BILL COULD BE IMPROVED TO COVER MORE WORKERS

House Bill 4023 passed the WV House of Delegates by a margin of 87-10. It would raise the state minimum wage in three steps to $7.25 by June 30, 2008. It has not moved in the state Senate, where it is triple-referenced. This is not a good sign and time is running out. However, one reason some people may oppose the bill is because it will not affect the mass of minimum wage workers due to definitions in the state code. This is a problem that can easily be fixed by amending a definition to the bill.

THE PROBLEM:

The West Virginia Code [21-5C-1(e)] excludes from the definition of “employer” “any individual, partnership, association, corporation, person or group of persons or similar unit if eighty percent of the persons employed by him are subject to any federal act related to minimum wage, maximum hours and overtime restrictions.” This means most businesses and therefore most workers would not be covered by the increase. While arguably any step in the direction of higher minimum wages is positive, we do have the option to amend the bill to cover more workers.

THE SOLUTION:

Federal law does not prohibit a state from requiring a higher minimum wage for all businesses. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides at USC sec. 218 (a) that “No provision of this chapter or of any order thereunder shall excuse noncompliance with and Federal or State law or municipal ordinance establishing a minimum wage higher than the minimum wage established under this chapter…”

In other words, states can set higher minimum wages. The only obstacle is the language in the W. Va. Code that limits coverage to those not covered by FLSA. Simply put, the senate could amend the bill to change the definition of employers and all workers would be covered, apart from any special exemptions the state may choose to make to protect very small or marginal businesses.

THE HIGH ROAD:

Already, 18 other states have raised their minimum wages with no harmful results. Maryland just passed a similar law which has not yet taken effect. Other states, including Ohio, Arizona, and Michigan have ballot measure campaigns to raise the minimum wage in the next election.

ACTION:

For West Virginians, share this information as widely and rapidly as possible. Call the state capitol switchboard toll free at 1-877-565-3447 and urge your senator to amend and pass H.B. 4023.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: DON'T ASK

March 05, 2006

WEEKEND SPECIAL: MELVILLE ON THE HUMAN CONDITION

"There are certain queer times in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own." from Moby-Dick

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: YOU DON'T EVEN WANT TO KNOW