Amendments on ballot

Published 1:16 pm Thursday, November 3, 2016

Two items will appear on every ballot Tuesday in Virginia, including in Buckingham, Cumberland and Prince Edward counties: Two proposed amendments to the Constitution of Virginia.

One would amend the commonwealth’s Bill of Rights to constitutionally make Virginia a “right to work” state. The other would amend Article X of the Constitution, providing property tax exemptions for spouses of certain emergency services providers.

The following summary of the amendments is based upon a Virginia Department of Elections (VDOE) pamphlet titled “Proposed Constitutional Amendments” provided by the Buckingham County Director of Elections Office.

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Right to work

The first amendment question, regarding making Virginia a “right to work” state will read as follows on Tuesday’s ballot:

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?

Currently, this right is already codified, word for word, in the Code of Virginia (Section 40.1-59) and makes any of the actions illegal. The law has been in place since 1947, according to the VDOE’s pamphlet.

The pamphlet states the proposed amendment would place the provisions of the existing right to work law into the commonwealth’s constitution. The VDOE  explained while the existing law can be amended by the General Assembly at any time, it would take another constitutional amendment to undo the one proposed, should voters answer “Yes” on Tuesday.

Property tax exemption

The second amendment question, which proposes to provide property tax exemptions for spouses of certain emergency services providers, will appear on the ballot Tuesday as follows:

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 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 explanation for this amendment is more involved than the one regarding the right to work.

According to VDOE’s pamphlet, Article X, Section 6-A of the Constitution currently requires the General Assembly to allow property tax exemptions of this type for military veterans 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.” In these cases, the real estate must be the surviving spouse’s principal residence. The exemption ceases if the surviving spouse remarries.

This section of the Constitution similarly authorizes the General Assembly to treat in the same way the surviving spouse of members of the Armed Forces killed in action, as determined by the U.S. Department of Defense.

The proposed amendment would authorize the General Assembly to enact a law that would then transfer the authority to exempt property taxes in this way for survivors of first responders (those listed in the Question) killed in the line of duty to localities.

Local governments, then, would have the right to enact their own ordinances to deal with these situations.

What is also different about this amendment from existing law is the “exemption would apply regardless of whether the spouse was killed in the line of duty prior to the effective date of the amendment,” the pamphlet read. However, the exemption would only apply to real property taxes to be paid on or after the amendment’s effective date. Also, according to the pamphlet, the “exemption would apply to the surviving spouse’s principal place of residence even if he or she moves to a new principal place of residence.” It would not even “require the surviving spouse to be residing in (Virginia) at the time his or her spouse was killed in the line of duty.”

In addition, the proposed amendment would authorize the General Assembly to add on additional restrictions and conditions on taxation exemption.

To read the full text of the proposed amendments or to learn more about other aspects of voting on Tuesday, visit (no www. is needed).