Ohio’s speaker of the House of Representatives plans a “thoughtful and deliberative” review of a bill limiting collective-bargaining rights for government employees that passed the Senate and has sparked protests, a spokesman said.
Committee hearings may start as early as next week, and there is no timetable for a vote on the bill, said Mike Dittoe, a spokesman for Speaker William Batchelder, a Republican from Medina.
“The speaker knows that there’s a lot of information in this bill that needs to be digested,” Dittoe said in a telephone interview.
The Ohio Senate passed the bill 17-16 yesterday, with all Democrats and six Republicans objecting. Senators debated the bill in front of a packed Senate chamber, where spectators included six men wearing firefighter helmets. Protesters outside listened to the proceedings, and their cheers and jeers could be heard inside. There were shouts of “shame” after the bill passed.
Senator Shannon Jones, the bill’s sponsor, acknowledged the demonstrators, though she said the measure is needed to give state and local governments the ability to cut costs and lower the number of firings needed in the face of budget reductions.
“I understand that change is hard,” Jones, a Republican, said during the debate. “But sometimes change is the only option because the status quo has failed us.”
Republicans control the Ohio House by a 59-to-40 margin, and Governor John Kasich supports the bill.
“This is a major step forward in correcting the imbalance between taxpayers and the government unions that work for them,” Kasich said in a statement after yesterday’s vote.
Democrats and labor leaders in Ohio have called the bill an attempt to “bust unions.” They say that it isn’t needed because workers have accepted concessions, and that it gives too much power to governments in contract negotiations.
State Senator Tom Sawyer, a Democrat, said he was in the Legislature when the current collective-bargaining law was passed in 1983. The law has limited the number of strikes by government unions to five during the past three years, with none last year, he said.
“It has worked, and it is working,” Sawyer said during debate. “It may not be perfect, but I would submit that this is not the time to tear this apart.”
With states facing projected total deficits of $125 billion, according to the Washington-based Center on Policy and Budget Priorities, governors including Kasich and fellow Republican Scott Walker of Wisconsin are seeking to require government workers to pay more for health care and pensions while restricting their power to negotiate future contracts.
The Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill curtailing government union power while a boycott by Senate Democrats stalled the measure.
The Ohio bill would allow about 360,000 state and local government unions to bargain only for wages, hours and working conditions, as well as require workers to pay at least 15 percent of their health-care premiums. It would also prohibit governments from contributing toward workers’ share of pension costs.
The measure also would ban strikes by government unions, though the Senate removed an amendment that would have imposed fines of up to $1,000 and 30 days in jail for offenders. The measure eliminates binding arbitration and lets a legislative body accept the final offer from a union or government employer if a negotiated agreement can’t be achieved.
Supporters got the seventh vote they needed to move the bill out of the Senate Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee yesterday after Senator Bill Seitz from western Hamilton, who opposed the bill, was replaced on the committee by fellow Republican Senator Cliff Hite, who voted for it.
‘Tails You Lose’
Seitz said during debate that the bill restricts the ability of police and fire unions to negotiate. He also objected to letting a legislative body accept a final offer, which he called a “heads-I-win, tails-you-lose solution.”
Leaders of police and fire unions said that the legislation will jeopardize the safety of their members by prohibiting them from negotiating for equipment, including bullet-proof vests.
“I should have the right to stand up and ask for things that could save my life,” Jay McDonald, president of the 26,000-member Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, said during a press conference at the Statehouse.
Republican Senate President Thomas Niehaus disputed that interpretation, telling reporters after the vote yesterday, “Who in their right mind is going to put safety personnel out on the street with inadequate protection?”
Niehaus said he decided to replace Seitz to ensure the bill would come before the full Senate. The terms for settling disputes are appropriate because legislative bodies are elected and accountable for the tax dollars they spend, he said.
Ohio voters may get the final say on the bill. If the Legislature passes the measure in its current form, there will be a move to repeal it, Democratic Senator Joe Schiavoni said.
To place the issue on a statewide ballot and put the law on hold until then, petition forms with more than 231,000 valid signatures of registered voters must be collected by July 6, according to the Ohio secretary of state’s office. The number of signatures required is 6 percent of the total vote cast for governor last year.
Kasich plans to release his proposed budget for the next biennium on March 15. Ohio faces a potential deficit of $8 billion, Kasich has said. He has promised to balance the spending plan without raising taxes.
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