CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Republican lawmakers are looking to make West Virginia a right-to-work state and repeal its prevailing wage for public construction projects this year. And although those changes don’t sit well with Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, it may not matter.
It only takes a simple majority in West Virginia to override the governor’s veto, as long as there’s enough time in the 60-day lawmaking session to reconsider it.
Though the GOP has a wide edge in the House, the Senate majority is slim at 17-16, with one vacancy and ambiguous guidance in state law on how to fill it.
The GOP and Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey say the replacement should be from their party. But Democrats have asked the state Supreme Court to rule that another Democrat should be appointed, because the senator who resigned was elected a Democrat and flipped Republican. If Democrats prevail, it could deadlock the chamber and throw an ambitious GOP agenda into turmoil.
It’s unclear when the court will make its decision, and the session kicks off Wednesday.
Republican lawmakers say they’ll try to clear their high-priority bills more quickly this year than they did in 2015, their first session in charge in more than eight decades.
“We’ll move them early,” said Senate President Bill Cole, a Mercer County Republican and candidate for governor. “If the governor’s going to veto them, then that gives us the opportunity to bring them back in and override the veto.”
Most states require a two-thirds vote to nix a governor’s veto. Only West Virginia, Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee allow a simple majority to override, according to The Council of State Governments. West Virginia’s bar is higher when the Legislature is already out of session, or when trying to overturn a budget item veto.
Last year, Republicans overturned just one Tomblin veto - a ban on abortions 20 weeks after conception. Many contentious bills died or ended in compromise.
Timing also became a deterrent, as Tomblin vetoed a gun bill and the clock ran out for lawmakers to reconsider it. The proposal to end the requirement to get a permit to carry a concealed gun is likely to reappear quickly this session.
After first looking to scrap the prevailing wage last year, Republicans sought common ground with unions. The final agreement required the Tomblin administration to find a different way to set the minimum pay for workers involved in state and local public construction jobs. The wage applies to union and nonunion contracts alike. Many Republicans have long called it inflated.
“Last year, the governor worked hard to forge a compromise that resulted in a reasonable prevailing wage law,” said Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman.
Cole and House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said the administration hardly changed the methodology and was catering to unions.
“To me, we could have found a compromise, a middle ground,” Cole said. “They didn’t want it. So, there’s not going to be one. Free market will prevail.”
The GOP push to make West Virginia the 26th right-to-work state would prohibit private-sector businesses from entering labor contracts requiring workers to pay union dues.
Cole said that given the state’s poor economic performance, he doesn’t understand what’s being protected, “except perhaps a way of life for some guys on the union payroll.”
Tomblin disagreed with the Republican argument that right-to-work would attract more business.
“Gov. Tomblin has repeatedly said that a right-to-work law is not something West Virginia needs, and companies looking to do business here have not considered right-to-work to be a hurdle to doing business in West Virginia,” Stadelman said.
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