UPDATED: The Paycheck Protection Bill Goes To Committee Today…

(see bottom for update)

…and we’ll have, if not the first defining moment of this legislative session, certainly one of the more important ones.

We’ve discussed paycheck protection bills before at the Hayride, and in particular the previous bills in the Louisiana legislature which died in the House Labor committee – the same committee this bill will be heard in today – in 2013 and 2014. What a paycheck protection bill essentially does is bar the state or local governments from collecting dues on behalf of unions straight out of paychecks of public employees. That means the unions representing teachers, cops, firemen and other unionized public employees would then have to carry the awful burden of convincing their members to either write a check every month, put up a credit card for monthly payments or set up an automatic bank draft. The latter two involve filling out a form fitting on a single sheet of paper.

It’s not a big deal. And nobody else is having the state collect dues from their members. LABI isn’t doing it, the Family Forum isn’t doing it, Together Louisiana isn’t doing it.

But the unions think this is the worst thing on earth, and it’s a cruel, brutal bit of union-busting for Rep. Alan Seabaugh to have brought the bill in 2013 and 2014 and for Rep. Stuart Bishop to bring it this year.

Why? The answer isn’t a particularly attractive one for the rest of us.

First, when the state takes union dues out of your paycheck, you never even see the money. Go talk to a member of one of those unions and ask them what their dues are. Most don’t have a clue. That’s exactly how the unions like it. If everybody knew what they were paying, they might also demand to know where the money is being spent – and when they find out that a good deal of their union dues are being kicked up to a national organization which is doing things like funding Planned Parenthood and shoveling cash to EarthJustice, and another good deal of that money is bankrolling the Louisiana Democrat Party and its candidates, many of them might not be quite as excited about union membership.

And second, if the state is drawing union dues from people who never see the money, it’s a lot harder to get out of the union than to stay in it.

For example, we heard a story a week or so ago that we’re checking on, but that we suspect is true, that one of the lobby groups filed a public records request of the police department in New Orleans and found out there were some 3,000 cops paying union dues in Orleans Parish. There are only 1200 or so active-duty cops in Orleans, and 1500 or so total employees of the NOPD. We don’t know how to account for that number other than to figure that union is having the state pull union dues from retired cops’ pension checks.

The guess here, if that’s true, is that you have lots of retired cops who are paying union dues and not even knowing it. Which is something pretty close to stealing, most folks would agree.

Hopefully, that question will get asked of the union representatives in today’s hearing. We’d like to know whether retired cops, firemen or teachers are getting stuck with union dues when the union does zero for them. That question might not be a very comfortable one to answer, especially in the likely event some of the retirees might learn something they won’t be too happy about.

Not to mention the state legislators – Republicans, even – who have been squishes of the first order where this bill is concerned.

In the last two years, the bill has failed to make it out of the House Labor Committee. The problem has been the makeup of the committee – in 2013, it was seven Republicans, seven Democrats and an independent (Dee Richard from Thibodaux). Last year it was eight Republicans, seven Democrats and Richard. Richard has therefore been able to kill the bill the last two years. But this year, House Labor is nine Republicans, six Democrats and Richard.

If there’s a party-line vote on the committee, which is a reasonable expectation for a bright-line ideological question like this bill presents, it ought to be a 9-7 vote to move it to the floor. Richard has opposed the bill the last two years because he’s afraid of the teachers’ unions in his district and that isn’t likely to change.

The question is whether all nine Republicans will vote for the bill. Here are the nine…

Broadwater, Chris Vice Chair Dist.  86 R
Seabaugh, Alan Member Dist.  5 R
Bishop, Stuart J. Member Dist.  43 R
Harris, Lance Member Dist.  25 R
Hodges, Valarie Member Dist.  64 R
Whitney, Lenar L. Member Dist.  53 R
Schexnayder, Clay Member Dist.  81 R
Stokes, Julie Member Dist.  79 R
Miguez, Blake Member Dist.  49 R

Schexnayder has been bad on the bill before – he was absent for the vote in 2013, but voted for it last year. Whitney, Harris, Bishop, Stokes and Broadwater are seen as solid votes for it. Hodges told us this morning she’s a yes. Seabaugh, who has brought the bill the last two years, will in all likelihood vote for it, though he told us on the Red Bayou Show a couple of weeks ago he’s queasy about including cops and firemen in it. Miguez, who won his special election race with 93 percent of the vote, was rumored to want off the committee rather than having to vote on the bill, but last we heard that was smoothed over and he’s a yes on the bill.

The guess here is all nine Republicans will vote for the bill, just like more than enough Republicans will vote for passage on the House floor despite some of them squirming about it. The reason? This is THE BILL for the business community this year. And when the legislators have whined to the business community’s lobbyists about having to vote for it in an election year, the response has been something to the effect of “That’s not an accident. A bill like this tells us who our friends are and who we ought to back a challenger to.” They want to put Republican legislators on the spot with a bill like Paycheck Protection, because you can’t really call yourself a conservative if you can’t vote for a bill that removes special treatment given to unions who spend the majority of their money funding left-wing causes and candidates.

But the committee hearing on the bill, which will happen around 11:00 today and the unions are bringing a big crowd to pack the committee room, we’re told, is likely to be contentious. And there are Republicans on that committee who will have a lot more heartburn about it than their professions of conservatism indicate they should.

UPDATE: Interestingly enough, the bill passed out of the Labor Committee by a bigger margin than expected. Even though Rep. Julie Stokes wasn’t available for the vote, it still managed nine yeas due to a rather unexpected switch from Richard, who had been the instrument of its demise the previous two years. Richard offered one of five troublesome amendments to the bill – his was to classify any organization lobbying in Louisiana as a union and bar payroll deductions from state or local governments to them, but he agreed to pull it and reintroduce it on the floor – but was with the majority both on Rep. Pat Smith’s motion to defer and the final vote.

So the bill now goes to the House floor, where it’s considered to be likely to pass. But there will be a fight.

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