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Free Lance-Star reporter Chelyen Davis covers Virginia government.

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Senate votes down Reeves’ secret union ballot bill

On a tied vote, the state Senate has voted down a proposed constitutional amendment to protect secret ballots for union workers.

Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, proposed the amendment last year — it was carried over to this legislative session.

It was intended to thwart any future federal “card check” laws that might make public the union voting processes that are currently secret.

“A secret ballot is vital to the integrity of our electoral process and it’s an essential right,” Reeves said on the Senate floor. “This amendment would allow all Virginians, regardless of party … union, non union, that opportunity to a secret ballot regardless of what your persuasion is, which I believe is a fundamental right.”

Putting into the state constitution language protecting secret ballots, Reeves said, would provide a greater guarantee and give state voters a chance to decide the issue.

Democrats, however, spoke out against the amendment, arguing that it seeks to direct elections that are covered by federal, not state, law.

“This is completely unneeded,” said Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke. “To the extent that it has to do with union representation, federal law (pre-empts) state law in this area.”

Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, said Reeves’ amendment also sought to stop something that isn’t likely to ever pass at the federal level.

Four years ago, Saslaw said, the AFL-CIO pushed for the federal “card check” law for open union elections. It couldn’t get a hearing for its proposal.

“There is absolutely no chance that this would ever pass there or here,” Saslaw said.

He suggested lawmakers are too quick to try to enshrine laws into the state constitution.

“Pretty soon our constitution is going to look like the Code of Virginia,” Saslaw said.

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, said he had less confidence than Saslaw that the federal government would never pass a card check bill.

Numerous state lawmakers have said they oppose card check, Obenshain said, and Reeves’ bill was their chance to demonstrate that opposition.

But the vote was 20-20, a tie. The state Senate is also tied, at 20 Democrats, 20 Republicans. While Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling can usually vote to break ties, he’s not allowed to do so on constitutional amendments, and a tie vote means the amendment failed to pass.

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