By Stefanie Jackson – The biannual Eggs and Issues breakfast and political forum, sponsored by the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce Dec. 4 at the Onley Town Center, gave local and state representatives the opportunity to address current issues.
Virginia General Assembly representatives Sen. Lynwood Lewis and Del. Rob Bloxom were present, along with Chairman Donald Hart, of the Accomack board of supervisors, and Chairman Spencer Murray, of the Northampton board of supervisors.
The state senator and delegate were asked if they support a $15 state minimum wage. Efforts to enact a $15 federal minimum wage have stalled, with a bill passing in the U.S. House of Representatives but failing to gain ground in the U.S. Senate.
Lewis supports raising the minimum wage in Virginia, but he noted there’s “no guarantee” it will be $15 per hour. A more likely number is $11.50, phased in during a six-year period, he said.
Bloxom agreed that any minimum wage increase should be “moderated” to discourage employers from cutting hours to compensate for pay raises.
Both legislators agreed it’s best to increase the minimum wage at the federal level so all workers benefit, but the Virginia General Assembly must act since Congress has failed.
Neither support banning the AR-15 rifle or reducing the capacity of gun magazines as methods of gun control.
The “AR” in AR-15 does not stand for “assault rifle,” Bloxom pointed out. The letter A stands for the name of the gun’s manufacturer. Banning a gun with a specific name may lead to the manufacturer simply changing the name, he said.
The objective of gun control laws is to prevent mass shootings, yet some shootings are done with legally purchased handguns, he added.
Other factors in mass shootings should be considered, for instance, if the shooter was taking anti-depressant medication, Bloxom said.
Lewis said weapons bans “do not advance public safety, and what they really do is inflame the already divisive nature of our system.”
He prefers to focus on emergency detention and red flag laws, both of which deal with individuals who may pose a danger to themselves or others.
Emergency detention laws allow a dangerous individual to be taken into custody, and red flag laws allow a police officer or family member to petition a court to have the dangerous individual’s guns confiscated.
There is a “cultural divide” on guns that some legislators don’t understand, Lewis said.
For example, a bill was introduced that would have banned gun access to persons under age 18. The intent of the bill was to curb teen suicide, but it would have had the unintended consequence of preventing youth from hunting, he said.
Neither was there much approval of second amendment sanctuaries – localities that have adopted resolutions pledging they will not use public funds to enforce unconstitutional gun laws.
There is no such resolution on the agenda for the Dec. 10 Northampton supervisors meeting, Murray said.
He does not agree with resolutions creating second amendment sanctuaries because they are “basically saying to local law enforcement, ‘You don’t have to enforce the law.’”
Murray said the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of laws is to be decided by the courts.
Hart said Accomack supervisors will likely vote on a resolution regarding second amendment sanctuaries at their Dec. 18 meeting, but the resolution will be a compromise.
It will state that “we follow the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution,” but “we cannot violate the law.”
Accomack supervisors prefer to notify the General Assembly by letter when a bill is introduced that supervisors believe to be “wrong,” Hart said.
The gun control issue is being presented as a “partisan divide, Democrats versus Republicans.” But it’s becoming an urban versus rural issue, “and that scares me,” Hart said.
Lewis announced that this year, he will try again to get state funding to help Accomack and Northampton public schools offer competitive salaries when recruiting new teachers.
The funding is called COCA (cost of competing adjustment).
Both Eastern Shore counties have problems recruiting teachers because the teachers can earn about $10,000 more simply by accepting a job in the next locality. Accomack competes with Maryland, to the north, and Northampton competes with Virginia Beach, Va., to the south.
Bloxom hopes Gov. Ralph Northam will include the COCA funding in his next budget.
The legislators were asked their opinions of multiple employer welfare arrangements, in which several employers band together to create one large pool of employees for negotiating health insurance costs.
Bloxom is in favor of any state legislation that would lower health insurance costs.
Since the Affordable Care Act was passed, he spends about five times as much on health insurance as a small-business owner, he said.
But the problem with banding together is that if employees in the insurance pool have pre-existing conditions or are otherwise unhealthy, a “death spiral” can result, in which the employer is stuck with one costly insurer.
Lewis agreed that multiple employer welfare arrangements have “fundamental flaws” and a “high failure rate.”
He supported Senate Bill 1689, which would have expanded the availability of association health plans, a type of short-term health plan usually offered by small businesses.
But Northam vetoed the bill because association health plans are not comprehensive, and they allow higher premiums based on factors like pre-existing conditions.
Both Lewis and Bloxom oppose repealing Virginia’s right-to-work law, which states workers cannot be compelled to join a union or pay union dues.
Lewis is against repealing a law “that’s been on the books since 1947,” and Bloxom believes repealing the law is the “wrong signal to send to business.”