In addition to voting in November for a new President and Congressional Representative, there will be two proposed Virginia Constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Right to Work

The first proposed amendment concerns Virginia’s right to work law, and the question on the ballot will be posed this way:

Question: Should Article I of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to prohibit any agreement or combination between an employer and a labor union or labor organization whereby (i) nonmembers of the union or organization are denied the right to work for the employer, (ii) membership to the union or organization is made a condition of employment or continuation of employment by such employer, or (iii) the union or organization acquires an employment monopoly in any such enterprise?

Virginia’s right to work law has been in place since 1947.  Basically, it prohibits any agreement between an employer and a labor union that denies work to nonmembers of the union, that makes membership in the union a condition of employment, or that allows the union to have an employment monopoly.

The proposed amendment places the provisions of the law into the Constitution of Virginia.  The bill’s sponsor in the House is Delegate Bell (R-Staunton); the sponsor in the Senate is our State Senator, Mark Obenshain.

On the face of it, the only reason to move an existing law into the constitution is to make it more difficult to repeal.  This seems to be the reason behind this movement also.  Del. Bell is quoted in the Richmond Times Dispatch as saying that by adding the provision to the state constitution, “we are protecting it from the whims of the legislature and thus ensuring it can remain in place for generations to come.”

It certainly is more difficult to change the State Constitution than it is to change State law.  Although the General Assembly may change a law, a constitutional provision can be changed only through a future constitutional amendment.  Such a measure would have to pass the legislature in two separate years and then be approved by the voters in a referendum.

Property Tax Exemption

The second proposed amendment would allow localities to exempt surviving spouses of police or rescue workers from property tax.  The question on the ballot will be posed this way:

Question: Shall the Constitution of Virginia be amended to allow the General Assembly to provide an option to the localities to exempt from taxation the real property of the surviving spouse of any law-enforcement officer, firefighter, search and rescue personnel, or emergency medical services personnel who was killed in the line of duty, where the surviving spouse occupies the real property as his or her principal place of residence and has not remarried?

The Virginia Constitution already requires the General Assembly to exempt from taxation the real property of any veteran with a 100 percent service-connected, permanent and total disability.  The state constitution also authorizes the General Assembly to exempt from taxation the real property of the surviving spouse of any member of the U.S. armed forces who was killed in action, as determined by the U.S. Department of Defense.

You can find out more about these two proposals on the Virginia Department of Elections website (here) and on the BallotPedia website (here).

by Jim Blubaugh, Washington VA