By Collin Reischman
Jefferson City, Mo. — Perhaps one of the most contentious floor debate yet held in the Senate during this general assembly, paycheck protection legislation emerged this week as one of the issues that can bog-down the otherwise full-steam-ahead Senate.
Senate Bill 29, sponsored by Sen. Dan Brown, R-19, would prohibit public employers from withholding fees from employee paychecks, and requires employee consent before any such fees may be used for political contributions.
Known rhetorically as “paycheck protection,” supporters say the bill protects workers from over-reaching public unions. Detractors call it an anti-labor bill designed to fundamentally weaken many Democratic-leaning public unions.
The bill arrived at the floor during an evening session Monday, and debate continued for more than two hours before the incoming inclement weather forced a delay. During the debate, several Democratic senators including Jason Holsam, D-7, and Ryan MeKenna, D-22, threatened to filibuster the legislation if a compromise was not accepted.
While Holsman sought compromise language on the floor, other senators refused to move on the bill. Sen. Paul LeVota, D-11, called the bill unnecessary and “a mockery.”
“I appreciate [Sen. Holsman’s] attempt at compromise, I appreciate that he’s looking for a place we can all agree, but I don’t know if I can support that,” LeVota said on the floor. “We don’t have a problem with this, right now, under the law, any union member can opt out of having deductions from their paycheck. Right now, under the law, you can refuse to support political contributions through your union. I mock this bill because this bill is a mockery.”
During the debate, Brown said his concern was for employees whose paychecks were being deducted for political contributions with which they disagreed.
“I just think it’s important to get the state, local and municipal government out of the business of automatic deductions,” Brown said. “I think we should give an employee an opportunity to self-direct where they want their own funds to go.”
Senators LeVota, McKenna and Holsman all took substantial time on the floor denying the legitimacy of the bill. McKenna, a private union member, said current law allows a member to opt-out of political contributions any time they want, and that the law was “wasteful of Senate time.”
Holsman strayed slightly from his Democratic colleges, agreeing there may be a problem to fix, but offering to draft compromise language to bring to the bill before passage. Holsman said he would like to change the language to include an opt-in program. Rather than prohibiting the collection of fees, Holsman proposed an opt-in form upon hiring as well as annual reports stating what political contributions have been made with an individual employee paycheck. This report would be included with an opt-out form, if the employee decides they no longer wish to make political contributions through their union.
LeVota rejected such a compromise on the floor while McKenna appeared receptive to it. McKenna, who held the floor for nearly an hour, explicitly threatened to filibuster the legislation in its current form.
The bill was moved onto the informal calendar and had not yet moved on the floor.