In addition to the heated presidential election, voters in Virginia will have the opportunity to vote on two proposed state constitutional amendments.
The first of these amendments, known as the Right to Work amendment, has attracted the attention of many influential groups, including Bernie Sanders’ recently created “Our Revolution,” a group committed to continuing Sanders’ progressive ideas and “political revolution.” Currently, Virginia has a right-to-work statute which bans employers from requiring union membership of its workers. The proposed amendment would add this already existing law to the Virginia state constitution, effectively preventing future lawmakers from undoing the current right to work laws.
Bernie Sanders’ “Our Revolution” has joined the ranks of Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe and Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam in urging voters to vote no on the amendment, calling it anti-union. Although Governor McAuliffe opposes the measure, governors are not allowed to veto resolutions to amend the state’s constitution.
Many prominent state Republicans support the amendment, including state senator Mark Obenshain (R – Rockingham), who sponsored the bill initially in the senate. They point to the fact that the law has already been on the books in Virginia since 1947 and fear that the current attorney general or future legislatures may try to overturn it, an unproven concern.
The second amendment before voters concerns tax exemptions for the surviving spouses of certain emergency services providers. In 2014, Virginia voters okayed a constitutional amendment that allowed the surviving spouses of military personnel killed in action to be exempt from certain property taxes until they move or remarry. This new amendment would expand those same tax exemptions to 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.
The 2014 measure was passed by a resounding majority, with 87 percent of voters supporting the measure and only 13 percent opposing. The new measure is also expected to pass by wide margins, although slightly smaller than the 2014 initiative.
All Virginia voters will have the opportunity to vote on each of these ballot initiatives on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, or sooner by absentee ballot.