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In this file photo Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City (center), looks on as Sens. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta (left), and Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, confer at the state Capitol.

Senate panel advances increasing minimum wage to $15 by 2021

A Senate panel cast a surprise vote on Monday for a bill to gradually increase Virginia’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 per hour by 2021, as two senior Republicans backed the measure sponsored by Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg.

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City County, and Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, joined Dance and three other Democrats in the 6-4 vote in favor of Senate Bill 1200. Four other Republicans on the Commerce and Labor Committee voted against the measure.

The vote, advancing the bill to the floor, could be an election-year effort to force all 19 Democrats to take a vote on an issue that could alienate members of the business community. All 40 senators and 100 delegates are up for election in November.

As the 2017 campaign for governor got underway Norment engineered a vote on so-called “sanctuary cities” in order to force a tie-breaking vote by then-Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.

Liberal advocacy groups hailed Monday’s vote.

‘We need to give working people opportunities, so that they don’t have to make the hard choice between food on the table or a roof over their head,” said Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of New Virginia Majority.

Senate panel OKs bill to halt driver suspensions for unpaid fines, costs

Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, said Monday that he worked with the Department of Motor Vehicles for a new bill that would end the practice of suspending someone’s driver’s license over unpaid court fines and costs.

Someone with a suspended license could pay a reinstatement fee of $145, according to Stanley’s proposal. Advocates for the change argue that without a driver’s license, a person with unpaid costs won’t be able to get to work.

Stanley’s bill passed the Senate last year but was not approved in the House. The Senate Courts of Justice Committee on Monday approved the measure, Senate Bill 1013, again.

Senate committee backs bill to shield identity of lottery winners

A Senate committee passed a bill that would allow Virginia Lottery winners to request their names not be disclosed. Open-government advocates said such a law would increase the risk of fraud.

Proponents of Senate Bill 1060 from Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, said lottery winners should be allowed privacy. The bill passed the Senate General Laws Committee on a vote of 10-4.

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, told the committee that reporters in Iowa, Wisconsin and Florida used lottery data — including names of winners — to uncover collusion between lottery officials and straw buyers, and winners with ties to stores that sold the tickets.

The Virginia Lottery last year opened an investigation into three of the state’s top winners after an investigation by The Virginian-Pilot into people who claimed winning tickets at a statistically impossible rate.

— From staff reports

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