The new Republican majority in the state Senate and House of Delegates has been sailing along, for the most part. They quickly passed the repeal of the alternative fuels law, advanced legal reforms, and have started to lay the groundwork on charter schools.
Credit goes to House Speaker Tim Armstead, Senate President Bill Cole and their leadership teams for their preparation. They have not wasted any time in the early stages of the 60-day session.
However, there are hints of possible storm clouds ahead.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson) is adamant about pushing legislation making West Virginia a right-to-work state. Carmichael has long lobbied for limiting the power of unions in the workplace and he wants to take advantage of the new majority to see it through this year.
Labor leaders will fight right-to-work to the last man. AFL-CIO president Kenny Perdue, a normally affable soul, was so infuriated when right-to-work lawmakers said it was an issue of freedom, he told the Daily Mail’s Joel Ebert the Republicans were “F- – – – – – liars.” (Perdue later apologized.)
Over on the House side, Republicans are said to be unsure whether to have a bitter fight over right-to-work. Some want to use their new majority to tackle every significant issue that’s been pent up for years, while others prefer to pick their battles.
There’s a similar scenario with prevailing wage, the law that requires the state’s Labor Commissioner to set the hourly wage rates for works on public projects, like school construction.
Senator Craig Blair (R-Berkeley) believes prevailing wage drives up the cost of labor and increases the cost to taxpayers for public projects. He wants it gone, or at least modified.
That’s another rub for labor and many Democrats. Republicans could probably cobble together the votes to win, but it could be a long, hard slog.
Additionally, Governor Tomblin may not be labor’s best friend, but he’s also reluctant to antagonize. One source said Tomblin would likely veto a right-to-work bill. Legislation eliminating prevailing wage could meet the same fate at the Governor’s desk, unless it’s a compromise proposal that only modifies the statute.
These and other issues still to come this session —abortion, guns, etc.—will indicate whether the new Republican majority will be content with making some progress and finding a safe harbor or sailing headlong in the uncertainties of a storm.