Arizona House Speaker Tobin pulls back two anti-union bills - East Valley Tribune: Business

Arizona House Speaker Tobin pulls back two anti-union bills

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Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 5:17 pm | Updated: 8:52 am, Thu Feb 21, 2013.

House Speaker Andy Tobin 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 these two measures are drawing strong opposition from unions representing police and firefighters. And Tobin said 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 would require that 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 they explain it to your constituents,'' she said. And Ugenti said she does not believe there is the opposition that Tobin fears.

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 that exists among some Republicans about how they feel about 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 Court Judge Murray Snow voided the law. He rules that picking and choose who is affected is unconstitutional discrimination.

"By imposing its burdens on the political speech of some unions and other organizations and not imposing like costs upon other similarly situated unions, or on other organizations that can use the funds for political activity, the law is underinclusive and discriminates according to the speaker,'' the judge wrote.

Efforts to resolve that problem by eliminating that exemption proved fruitless given the political clout of the unions for the first responders. Tobin told Capitol Media Services the same dynamics still exist.

"We still have many of our members who don't want to hurt public safety,'' he said. Tobin said he understands how that happens.

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

And Tobin said even if he could squeeze the measure out of the House, it would be for naught.

"Why would I put our guys at risk if the Senate can't move it out?'' he asked.

Montenegro's legislation would expand the state's Open Meeting Law which generally requires public bodies to discuss their business in the open 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.

"There is a desire by legislators to kind of bring in some light to how some of these negotiations are happening, especially because it has to do with taxpayers' dollars,'' Montenegro said.

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

"It's very politically loaded,'' Montenegro said, citing the support that some of the unions have provided to legislators.

But the opposition is more complex than that.

When HB 2330 was being considered last month by the House Government Committee, Sonny Borelli of Lake Havasu City and Doug Coleman of Apache Junction, both Republicans, both opposed the measure. Both came to the Legislature with a different perspective than Montenegro, having served on their respective city councils.

In fact, the only reason they ultimately voted in favor was a matter of political courtesy to give Montenegro a chance to get the issue to the full House. Now Tobin has removed that as an option.

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 which makes all future state employees all "at will.''

Lori Klein, R-Anthem, who had been a state senator, cited Tobin's actions in an unsuccessful attempt to oust him in last year's Republican primary.

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