RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Republicans are advancing a proposal to lower the minimum wage for children in the commonwealth over the opposition of youth advocates.

According to Delegate Daniel Marshall (R – Roanoke), HB 1669 was inspired by a conversation with a local business owner.

“His concern is not so much what the minimum wage is today,” Marshall said. “He’s worried about when it inches up to $15.”

But as House majority leader Delegate Terry Kilgore (R – Norton) pointed out, the minimum wage will only increase to $15 an hour if the General Assembly re-enacts those increases in new legislation — something unlikely to happen under a Republican-controlled House.

Still, Marshall said businesses can’t afford to pay the higher wage for “someone who comes into a business less than 18 with a small skillset.”

“What we’re doing here is just limiting the pay to $9 for age 18 and below,” he said. His bill would set a universal floor of $9 an hour for workers under the age of 18.

Under current Virginia law, the state minimum wage of $12 an hour applies to workers above the age of 16, unless they’re a student and work less than 20 hours a week or fall under one of the other exceptions. For those under the age of 16 or otherwise excepted, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour applies, as well as the “training wage” of $4.25 an hour in limited circumstances.

No one except Marshall gave public testimony in favor of his bill, but a number of speakers opposed it, including representatives of the state’s plumbers, teachers and construction unions.

Abby Gardner, a 17-year-old member of Coalition for Virginia’s Future, told a House subcommittee that some of her friends rely on their work to support their families, and would be hurt by this change.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have the ability to save the majority of my paychecks to support my future plans for a college and career,” she said. “Many of my friends are not as lucky.”

Felix Hedberg, a Virginia high school student, told 8News that the proposal devalued the work she and other youth workers did.

“We’re getting punished for showing initiative,” she said. “I think youth should be paid the same minimum wage as their adult colleagues.”

Mel Borja, an analyst with the left-leaning Commonwealth Institute, pointed out that the bill would also worsen the effects of inflation on underage workers.

Currently, the Virginia minimum wage will automatically increase with inflation beginning in 2026, but Delegate Marshall’s bill would fix the minimum wage at $9 an hour for everyone under 18, requiring new legislation for any future increases.

“Our analysis of CPIU data demonstrates that $12 an hour in January 2020 is worth about $10.41 today,” she said. “So when we look at the erosion of the dollar because of inflation for working families, that’s one of the reasons why we’re so adamantly against HB 1669.”

The bill is now headed to the House floor after a party-line vote by the Commerce and Energy committee on Jan. 30, but it may face trouble before it even makes it to the Democrat-controlled senate. That’s because Republican House Leader Terry Kilgore was one of the three delegates to vote against advancing the bill in committee earlier this month.