Recently I have been asked by many constituents to explain the two 2016 ballot proposed amendments to the Virginia Constitution. I will explain them, but I am not here to tell you how to vote. A long time ago I learned that I am no smarter than my constituents. In fact, at every meeting I go to, there is always one person who knows more than me on the topic I am explaining. With that in mind, let me try to explain these amendments and both sides of the arguments for and against.
First, it may be useful to understand how an amendment gets on the ballot. Other states have procedures where citizens can collect a number of signatures and get a proposed law on the ballot. That is how marijuana has been legalized in many states. In Virginia, all laws are passed by the General Assembly and not the public, except for Constitutional Amendments. To get the Constitution amended, a bill must pass. Then there must be an intervening election, and the exact same bill (not even a comma can be changed) has to be passed. And then, it has to be voted on by a majority of the citizens voting in the next election.
We have two proposed amendments: (1) Right to Work and (2) Allowing local governments to exempt property taxes for spouses of Police and Firefighters killed in the line of duty.
(1) Right to Work
This amendment would guarantee in the Virginia Constitution a citizen’s right to hold a job without being required to join a labor union. For decades the Virginia Code has included a law which declares that no one can be forced to join a Labor Union (pay a fee) in order to work. So, contrary to popular belief, Labor Unions are not illegal in Virginia. The law simply means that union membership must be voluntary and not compulsory.
The practical effect of this is that Labor Unions have a great difficulty forming in Virginia because why would someone join a Union when others don’t have to join and pay?
Even though this concept is already in the law, this proposal seeks to move it to the Constitution so that it will be very difficult to repeal it. (As stated earlier, to repeal, the same law would have to pass twice with an intervening election and then be approved at the ballot box).
“There is also a practical issue. As you many know, many states are not right-to-work states. For many jobs in many parts of the country, people can be forced to join a labor union against their will just to hold a job. A nearby example of an organization that is not “right-to-work” is the Metro.
When major businesses in the United States expand or relocate, a key factor in their consideration is locating in a place that has strong right-to-work laws. “By placing this provision in the state Constitution, Virginia would send a strong signal nationally that we want businesses to locate, expand, and create jobs in our state.” (This is an excerpt of an e-mail written by Delegate Jim LeMunyon)
“It is already in the Code. This is just politics.” Also, they point out that it is not fair that some people have to pay to get the benefits of being in a Union (e.g. negotiated wages and benefits with the government and private businesses), and others get to be “freeloaders” by getting the benefits without having to pay.
(2) Allowing local governments to exempt property taxes for spouses of Police and Firefighters killed in the line of duty.
This is not as controversial as the other amendment. This proposed amendment allows, not requires, local governments to exempt from property tax the homes of a surviving spouse of a law enforcement officer or other emergency responder who is killed in the line of duty. A similar provision already exists for surviving spouses of members of the armed forces who are killed in the line of duty or are permanently disabled.
Proponents say that approval of this amendment is one way of showing our support for people who risk their lives every day to keep us safe.
Opponents don’t seem to be against this, but they point out that as more and more groups seek similar exemptions, our tax base begins to deteriorate. And every person who gets exempted must have their share of taxes be made up by other citizens who have to pay property taxes.
I wanted to provide an explanation that is non-partisan and consists of just the facts. Please let me know if you have any questions. If you want my opinion, just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be happy to share it.