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Judge blocks Va. weekend law

By Associated Press
Published July 3, 2004

RICHMOND, Va. - A legislative mistake that would require Virginia businesses to give employees Saturdays or Sundays off as a "day of rest" if they request it was blocked from taking effect this weekend by a judge Friday.

Judge T.J. Markow granted an emergency 90-day injunction at the urging of several Virginia corporations.

The delay will give legislators time to correct the oversight, which alarmed a wide range of businesses with weekend or round-the-clock shifts to cover, such as factories, stores, utilities and restaurants.

"The gun has at least been removed from their hand and put back in the holster," said Hugh Keough, president and chief executive of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

The judge acted reluctantly, saying he believed he was encroaching upon the legislature's prerogative.

The "day of rest" law was mistakenly enacted earlier this year when Virginia's General Assembly repealed the antiquated "blue laws" that once required businesses to close on Sundays.

Lawmakers unwittingly struck from the books a decades-old exemption for private businesses from Virginia's 17th century day-of-rest law. The error went unnoticed and was signed into law by Gov. Mark R. Warner.

The day-of-rest law entitles workers at factories, restaurants, hotels, movie theaters and private hospitals to take off Saturday or Sunday - whatever their chosen day of worship - if they so desire.

Business that do not abide by their employees' wishes can be fined up to $500 for each offense. Also, an employer that forces an employee to work on a day of rest can be made to pay triple the worker's regular wages.

Dominion Resources, Virginia's main electricity utility, Smithfield Packing, one of the nation's largest meat producers, International Paper and others argued that the provision was unconstitutional because it specified particular days off for religious purposes.

They also argued that the measure violates a passage in the Virginia Constitution that says a bill can deal with only one purpose, clearly stated in the title of the legislation.

[Last modified July 3, 2004, 01:00:34]

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