George Mason Law School

Two state ballot measures divide Virginians

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November 1, 2016

3:22 AM

On Election Day, Virginians will be voting on two statewide ballot measures. These proposed state constitutional amendments deal with right-to-work status in Virginia and state and property tax exemptions for the spouses of first responders killed in action.

The first constitutional amendment would make Virginia a right-to-work state, making it illegal for workplaces to require union membership as a condition of employment.

College of William and Mary professor of government and public policy John McGlennon said that Virginia is already a right-to-work state, but it is not officially written in to the constitution.

“We’ve had a right-to-work law for a long time,” McGlennon said. “It prohibits [required union membership] from happening and a number of states with Republican lawmakers have tried to make it part of state constitutions in order to make it harder to change in the future.”

There were a number of arguments in the Virginia Senate over the proposed right-to-work amendment, with Democrats and Republicans leaning in opposite directions. There is a similar partisan split at the College.

Young Democrats Campaign Coordinator Greg Akerman ’19 advises students to vote “no” to the right-to-work amendment. Akerman said that this amendment would cement right-to-work, which he said he regards as a serious blow to the general welfare of the public.

Right now the focus of the labor unions is making sure other states don’t fall into the same trap,” Akerman said.

“Right now the focus of the labor unions is making sure other states don’t fall into the same trap,” Akerman said. “The hope will be that we will model West Virginia, where right-to-work was challenged in the courts for unconstitutionality and suspended.”

Chair of the College Republicans Phoebe Brannock ’18 supports the amendment and said that no person’s employment status should depend on their membership in a union.

“If you are able to work, you should work, and just because you’re not a member of an organization doesn’t mean a company should exclude you from doing that,” Brannock said. “It’s just making sure that no one, if they’re qualified for a job, can’t be employed for it. I think it’s more for the future.”

Vice President of VOX: Voices for Planned Parenthood Karla Kaplan ’18 said that she disapproves of the right-to-work amendment. She said that VOX feels very strongly about voting “no” to this amendment because of the negative effects it would have on reproductive rights.

She said that this amendment would increase poverty and make women in need of an abortion unable to access one because of financial constraints. As a result of this, Kaplan said that the wealthy would always be able to have access to abortions and birth control, but that the working class would not.

“We’re talking about people who can’t afford to take a day off work to go get an abortion, so that makes it a reproductive rights issue,” Kaplan said.

According to McGlennon, the right-to-work amendment should not be on the ballot. McGlennon said that the state constitution should not be amended to include laws that make it harder for legal change to occur in the future. He said that he will not be voting for this amendment and that people in the workplace have a right to obtain better working conditions.

The second proposed amendment has not led to as much contention, and only one club at the College has given an official voting recommendation. This amendment supports providing a property tax exemption to the spouses of first responders killed in the line of duty. The Young Democrats at the College recommend voting “yes” on this amendment in order to support veterans and said they are confident that it will pass.

However, Brannock and McGlennon have a different viewpoint.

Brannock said that this exemption would not be a positive change and that it would waive property taxes for these spouses indefinitely. However, she said she would be in favor of waiving it for a year until the spouse is able to recover and downsize their property if necessary.

They are still using that property as they were before, and so they should be paying a tax on that property,” Brannock said.

“They are still using that property as they were before, and so they should be paying a tax on that property,” Brannock said.

McGlennon opposes the property tax amendment because, in his opinion, the constitution is not the place for it. He said that if the state wants to make a gesture of recognition toward these spouses they could do it by changing the state tax code instead of passing it on to localities to deal with.

Even though they have differing opinions on these issues, they agree that students at the College should learn about these proposed amendments before voting on Nov. 8.

“I know a lot of people feel like their vote doesn’t count or don’t feel motivated to vote on things that aren’t as exciting as a presidential election but … it’s something people should care about,” Kaplan said.

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Nia Kitchin
  • Nia Kitchin

News Editor Nia Kitchin '20 is a Government and Studio Art double major. She is from Charlottesville, Virginia and enjoys traveling, hiking, and keeping up with political drama.