NEWSLETTER: General Assembly Update Vol. 2

February 5, 2020


      We’re almost halfway through Session with what we call Crossover fast approaching.  By next Tuesday, the Senate must act upon all its legislation which is still outstanding.  The bills that pass will “crossover” to the House of Delegates where they will go through the same process as they did in the Senate.  

      Since this Session began, it has become abundantly clear that the Democrats’ California modeled liberal agenda will not only negatively impact our Second Amendment rights, and the common sense limits on abortion, but they are also determined to disrupt our energy sector and business environment. 

      Four issues in particular took center stage – all of which will be costly for our Commonwealth and fall on the backs of hard working Virginians.

      First was the issue of prevailing wage. In 1931, Congress passed the Davis Bacon Act, which required contractors to pay the “prevailing wage” to employees on most federally funded construction projects. The Davis Bacon Virginia version that was passed out of committee this week is essentially the Democrats’ attempt to legally price fix the wages of construction workers in government projects.

      Putting aside the fact that the Act was originally passed back in the 1930s to prevent non-unionized black and immigrant laborers from competing with unionized white workers, the Davis Bacon Act prevents smaller contractors, of which there are many at home in the Shenandoah Valley, from being able to afford to pay this “prevailing wage.”

      The bill that came out of committee that establishes Virginia’s version of the Davis Bacon Act is bad for Virginians, particularly those at home here in the Valley that will no longer be able to compete with large out of state unionized contractors.

      The next issue that Democrats pushed out of committee this week was collective bargaining for public employees. This bill would repeal the prohibition on public employee collective bargaining for local government employees (including teachers and school board employees.)  It’s important to note that teacher collective bargaining has been shown to have a negative impact on student achievement.  A study done in the Yale Law Journal suggests that any positive impact that unions have on high performing students, if indeed there is any, is gained at the expense of lower performing students. Moreover, a 2018 study in the Economics of Education Review suggests that teacher collective bargaining is associated with lower overall student achievement and that great proportions of students are scoring at the bottom of the performance distribution and smaller proportions score at the top tail.  Overall, collective bargaining isn’t about helping improve our education system or help our students — it’s only about money. Take a look here at one of the worst consequences of collective bargaining in New York.

      The final piece of this liberal trifecta dealt with energy and utility bills – the Virginia version of AOC’s Green New Deal.

      Virginia Democrats are determined to bring a California styled environmental makeover to Richmond. California passed its own “Climate Action Plan” over a decade ago.  Let me tell you how that’s worked out for California:  CA’s residential electric rates are 40% higher than the national average, 70% higher than Oregon and 50% higher than their neighboring states of Nevada and Arizona.  The state’s wind and solar resources (which have been the primary source beneficiaries of its energy policy mandates, subsidies, and tax schemes) provided about only 1% of consumption in 2006 and only 7% in 2016. 

      The Democrats’ bill mandates that Virginia must generate 100% carbon free energy by 2050 but they do not care what it will cost taxpayers and customers.  Electric and utility bills will skyrocket to offset the costs of these mandates and renewable projects.  This is not a good direction for the Commonwealth and I will oppose these initiatives.

      Next up will be efforts to repeal or eviscerate Virginia’s Right-to-Work law by adopting the so-called Fair Share Act.  Sen. Majority Leader Dick Saslaw’s Fair Share Act (SB 426), would require non-union workers at some businesses to pay labor union dues as a condition of employment.

      While right-to-work laws don’t prohibit unions from organizing in Virginia, they do establish precedent that Virginia workers can’t be fired for refusing to join a union or pay its dues. In Virginia, 4% of workers are union members, compared to 10.3% nationally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

      Saslaw’s bill would authorize employers to require non-union workers to pay a “fair share fee” to a related labor union to reimburse that union for representing the interests of the nonmember employee.

      Bills like this one is the first step to repealing Virginia’s Right-to-Work status which would stifle our economy, cripple our AAA bond rating, and be detrimental to job growth. Chambers of Commerce, the Virginia NFIB, and a number of other business coalitions oppose repealing our Right-to-Work law and the Fair Share Act, as do I.

      The Governor has said publicly he can’t “foresee” Virginia repealing its right to work laws….well we shall see. With the direction that the Democrats at taking thus far, I have little confidence in the Governor’s prior statement.

      On a positive note, we have had a great group of visitors over the past two weeks.  It was Electric Cooperative Day last Monday and we enjoyed meeting with representatives of Rappahannock Electric and Shenandoah Electric Cooperative.  Also stopping by were our Commissioners of the Revenue, Rappahannock Board of Supervisors, Harrisonburg Boys & Girls Club, Shenandoah Music Festival, Bridgewater College, JMU Occupational Therapy, VAIL, and educators from Rockingham County.   I also enjoyed getting to see my good friends from Luray Caverns and the VA Beer Wholesalers Association.

      We are here in Richmond until March 7. My staff and I welcome the opportunity to see you if you are visiting the General Assembly. My office is Room 502E in the Pocahontas Building. I appreciate hearing your views on pending legislation.  We have received thousands of emails this session already and hundreds of calls.  Thank you for your advocacy on issues which are important to you.  You can always let me know your views on any of the issues before the General Assembly by emailing me at m[email protected], calling my district office in Harrisonburg at 540-437-1451 or my General Assembly Office in Richmond at 804-698-7526.

      More updates coming soon!


Mark Obenshain