House won't get to vote on 2 bills to curb unions

Speaker fears they'll fail because they pit police, firefighter groups vs GOP
2013-02-16T00:00:00Z House won't get to vote on 2 bills to curb unionsHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
February 16, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, is sidelining two anti-union measures rather than bringing them to the floor for a divisive - and potentially losing - vote.

Tobin said most of the Republicans who control the Legislature have no problem chipping away at the power of labor unions. He said much already has been done.

But the speaker said the two measures he's sitting on are drawing strong opposition from police and firefighter unions, and many GOP lawmakers, being strong supporters of "first responders," and in some cases, having been endorsed by those unions, are reluctant to attack them.

The move disappointed Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, the sponsor of the more sweeping of the measures - HB 2330, which would require any negotiations between employee groups and public bodies be open to the public.

"It's transparency," he said.

The other proposal, HB 2026, would prohibit cities and counties from providing paycheck deductions for public employee union dues unless the governing board first voted, in open meeting, to approve it.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, said her measure is not a radical approach, as it does not ban such deductions but simply requires a public vote.

"I'm just saying 'Own what you do' and ... explain it to your constituents," she said. Ugenti said Tobin is overestimating the opposition.

Tobin, however, said there is no reason to bring either measure to the floor and provoke a debate if neither has a realistic chance of final approval.

The speaker's action reflects the schism among some Republicans about their feelings toward police and firefighter unions versus unions in general.

That dichotomy played out two years ago when legislators approved a measure to prohibit any public or private employer from deducting money from a worker's paycheck for political purposes unless the employee gives written or electronic authorization each year. But the legislation specifically exempted unions that represent police, firefighters and corrections officers.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow voided the law, ruling that picking and choosing who is affected is unconstitutional discrimination.

"We still have many of our members who don't want to hurt public safety," Tobin said. "Public safety is a Republican issue, and my members clearly do not like getting in the middle of that."

Tobin said that even if he could squeeze the measure out of the House, getting it through the Senate would be a problem.

Montenegro's legislation would expand the state's Open Meeting Law to include any discussion of salaries and fringe benefits between a representative of a public body and any agent or officers of an employee organization. It would not matter whether there was a quorum of an elected council present - or even if a council member was there at all.

But he conceded some of his GOP colleagues "feel a little uncomfortable" with the issue.

"It's very politically loaded," Montenegro said.

This isn't the speaker's first time interceding on union issues. He took some political heat last session for refusing to bring bills to the floor on union dues and barring public agencies from providing release time for employees to work on union business.

Tobin said there were not the votes, even with Republicans having a 40-20 edge over Democrats in the House and 21-9 in the Senate. The 2012 election has shrunk that lead to 36-24 and 17-13 respectively.

But Tobin said he never blocked other bills that had sufficient support, including a far-reaching personnel-reform proposal that makes all future state employees "at will."

On StarNet: Go to azstarnet.com/politics to read more about local and state government and political news

"We still have many of our members who don't want to hurt public safety.

Public safety is a Republican issue, and my members clearly do not like getting in the middle of that."

Andy Tobin,

House Speaker

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