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Right-to-Work, Prevailing Wage Repeal up for votes in WV Legislature

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Right-to-Work, Prevailing Wage Repeal up for votes in WV Legislature
By Rusty Marks, State Journal

Two key pieces of legislation pushed by West Virginia’s Republican majority are up for votes Thursday, Feb. 4, in the state Senate and House of Delegates.

Delegates will vote on the Workplace Freedom Act, a right-to-work bill passed by the Senate earlier in the legislative session, while the Senate will take up the House-sponsored measure that would repeal state prevailing wage rates. Both bills are on third reading in their respective chambers.

The Senate made no major changes to the House version of the prevailing wage bill on second reading Wednesday, meaning the bill would go to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin if it passes the Senate. Senate Republicans voted down two amendments offered by minority Democrats.

Senator Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, proposed replacing the state’s prevailing wage rates with wage rates established under the Davis-Bacon Act for federal construction projects. Those rates are lower than the state rates, which many Republicans object to.

“If we simply repeal, we have nothing,” Snyder argued, adding that Davis-Bacon rates don’t require contractors to put aside any money to pay for union costs. The amendment failed on a strict party vote, with 16 Democrats voting in favor and 18 Republicans voting against.

Senator Mike Romano, D-Harrison, then offered an amendment asking that if Republicans were going to insist on doing away with prevailing wage rates that they at least add a provision in the bill giving priority to West Virginia workers, followed by United States citizens, when hiring for state construction projects. Senator Charles Trump, R-Morgan, replied that such an amendment was likely unconstitutional. That amendment also failed by a vote of 16-18.

On the House side of the statehouse, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, offered several amendments to the Senate-sponsored Workplace Freedom Act that will send the bill back to the Senate if it passes the House.

Shott offered an amendment that did away with the daily accrual of cash penalties for violating the proposed law, and added a provision that employers would have to knowingly violate the law to be charged. Another amendment did away with administrative investigation requirements and penalties in the Senate version of the bill, which said complainants could ask the state Attorney General, a county prosecutor or the state Division of Labor to investigate violations.

The Workplace Freedom Act would make it illegal for employers to require workers to pay into union dues as a condition of employment. Opponents say the bill is an attack on unions, and would drive down wages and hurt workers.

Also Wednesday, the Senate unanimously approved a bill that would prohibit county parks commissions from banning guns in county parks. Kanawha County was apparently the only county in the state to ban firearms, and lawmakers said county commissions are already prohibited from regulating firearms. The bill now goes to the House for debate.