Legislation May Repeal West Virginia’s 81-year-old Prevailing Wage Act (HB 4005)

The Legislation is one 18-16 vote away from heading to the governor, after the Senate rejected Wednesday, on party-line 18-16 votes, amendments intended to temper the repeal.

Also included was an amendment by Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, to replace the state’s prevailing wage rates with the federal Davis Bacon Act rates. “We already have to use federal Davis Bacon rates if there’s any federal money involved,” Snyder said, noting that most state highways projects pay the federal wage scales. Enacted in 1931, and the model for prevailing wage laws in West Virginia and 31 other states, Snyder said Davis Bacon is intended to help assure that local contractors using local construction workers would not be underbid for federally funded projects. “We should do everything we can to help West Virginia’s economy and put money back in West Virginians’ pocketbooks,” said Snyder, who said he believes the biggest controversy over West Virginia’s prevailing wage is over calculation of the regional wage rates. “It gets West Virginia out of the calculating business,” he said of the proposal to use Davis Bacon rates. However, Senate Government Organization Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said Davis Bacon rates are not a viable alternative, saying the federal wage rates have been steadily increasing. “They have climbed up to where they are there with West Virginia prevailing wage rates, which we consider to be too high.” Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, also commented, “Our wages are too high because of prevailing wage.”

These comments drew a response from Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, who said, “What I’ve heard today from the senators across the aisle is that West Virginia workers are overpaid. I didn’t know that.” Senators also rejected, 18-16, an amendment by Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, to require contractors on state-funded construction projects to give hiring preference to state residents. “It doesn’t require prevailing wage. It doesn’t require Davis Bacon wages. It just gives preference to West Virginians,” he said. Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, countered that the provision could violate the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, and tie the state up in costly litigation.

A passage vote today will send the bill to the governor on the 23rd day of the 60-day regular session, allowing ample time for override votes of an anticipated gubernatorial veto. Also Wednesday, the Senate passed, 34-0, and sent to the House a bill (SB 254) to prohibit county parks commissions from enforcing any regulations banning or restricting firearms in county parks.

See article in it's entirety by clicking here to go to the Charleston Gazette-Mail website. By Staff Writer Phil Kabler.  Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazettemail.com, 304 348-1220, or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

James Jordan