In addition to races for president and Congress, Virginians will vote in November on a proposed amendment that would put the provisions of Virginia’s right-to-work law into the state constitution.
The right-to-work law says that participation in a union may not be a condition for employment in Virginia.
A second proposed constitutional amendment on the Virginia ballot Nov. 8 is meant to aid the families of first responders killed in the line of duty. It would allow localities to exempt a surviving spouse’s real property from taxation.
Virginia has had a right-to-work law since 1947. Backers of the proposed amendment, which the General Assembly passed in party-line votes, say embedding the provision in the state Constitution would make it harder for a future General Assembly to undo.
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.
The proposed amendment, sponsored in the House by Del. Richard P. “Dickie” Bell, R-Staunton, and in the Senate by Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, has the support of the Virginia Chamber and the National Federation of Independent Business.
Bell said the right-to-work law is “a crucial factor” in Virginia’s rankings as one of the best states for business.
He has said 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.”
The Virginia AFL-CIO, which opposes the measure, said the proposed amendment is unnecessary, and would be “nearly impossible” to reverse. It said the amendment “is designed by a handful of powerful corporate interests to silence the voices of hardworking Virginians.”
During the state Senate debate on the measure in February, Democrats said Virginia’s right-to-work law is not under attack.
“In the 41 years that I’ve been here, nobody has ever put in a bill to repeal the right to work,” said Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax.
Another proposed amendment
The other proposed constitutional amendment would authorize the General Assembly to enact a law that would let a locality exempt from taxation the real property of the living spouse of any law enforcement officer, firefighter, search and rescue personnel member, or emergency medical services personnel member killed in the line of duty.
The exemption from taxation would apply to the surviving spouse’s principal place of residence. It would cease if the surviving spouse remarries.
This proposed amendment, sponsored by Del. Timothy D. Hugo, R-Fairfax, passed the legislature without opposition.
Article X, Section 6-A of the Virginia Constitution already requires the General Assembly to exempt from taxation the real property — including the joint real property of a husband and wife — of any veteran with a 100 percent service-connected, permanent and total disability, as determined by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the real property of the surviving spouse of an eligible veteran.
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.