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Rotunda of Missouri Capitol

Missouri lawmakers under the capitol rotunda in 2012. Photo by Robert Cohen,

JEFFERSON CITY • The Missouri Legislature is sending a bill to Gov. Jay Nixon that would make public employee unions ask their members each year if they want to continue being members.

With the legislative session entering its final days, the legislation doesn’t go as far as some lawmakers had hoped toward restricting labor groups. An effort to make Missouri the latest right-to-work state this session appears to have stalled, and the bill that did pass was amended by Democrats.

But the legislation, which earned final approval at the Capitol on Monday, would require public employee unions to get consent every year from members before deducting fees from their paychecks. Additionally, the bill also would require such unions to get annual written permission from members before using those fees for political purposes.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, repeatedly has said he sees the so-called “paycheck protection” legislation as a step toward right-to-work. On Monday, after the bill passed his chamber, Jones tweeted that the House had “moved one step closer to complete worker freedom.”

Supporters claim the legislation will serve as a shield to protect workers’ paychecks from being pilfered for political activities they don’t agree with and will preserve their First Amendment rights.

“If you support the First Amendment, you should support this bill,” said Rep. Rick Brattin, R- Harrisonville.

But opponents claim the move is unnecessary and will affect how unions participate in the political process. They say the real intent is a calculated hit to organized labor.

“Instead of a job creation agenda, which they should have, they have an anti-worker agenda,” said Mike Louis, secretary treasurer of Missouri AFL-CIO.

Nixon, a Democrat, could veto the bill, but he hasn’t yet made his intentions public.

The measure passed the Republican-controlled House in an 85-69 vote — well below the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

In its original form, the legislation would have blocked public employee labor unions from automatically deducting fees from employees’ paychecks — even if workers gave their permission. But after an eight-hour filibuster on the paycheck deduction legislation in March, the GOP-controlled Senate passed a version that scaled back the proposal to requiring yearly consent.

The bill includes an exemption for first responders such as firefighters and paramedics. It covers all public employee unions, including some state workers and local and regional government employees — among them the 35,000 members of the Missouri National Education Association.

House members defended the proposal on the floor Monday.

“Things change in our lives from year to year,” said Rep. Lyndall Fraker, R-Marshfield. “This is a reminder.”

The larger right-to-work legislation has been discussed for several years in Missouri without gaining much traction. But last year, Indiana and Michigan both passed right-to-work laws, igniting a new focus on the issue here. Hearings on the issue at the Capitol this year have drawn some of the largest crowds of the session.

But with the last day of the session looming Friday, lawmakers appear unlikely to pass that broader effort.

In Missouri and the 25 other states that don’t have right-to-work laws, labor groups can negotiate on behalf of all workers — even those who are not in unions. Employees who are not union members don’t have to pay dues, but they must pay fees to cover the cost of representation — essentially tying them to the groups, even if they want no affiliation.

Unions are still legal in right-to-work states, but the change is seen as a blow to their power because workers can opt out without paying fees and still receive union-negotiated benefits and protections. Labor groups call those who benefit without paying “freeloaders.”

Labor groups say the change approved in Missouri — requiring yearly consent — places an undue burden on them and will require that money be diverted to reminders, notifications and other clerical work to stay within the law.

Louis, the labor group officer, said he thinks lawmakers found a way to promote legislation that people don’t fully understand.

“I think they had to back off of (right-to-work) and go with (the paycheck bill) because what they’re calling it, ‘paycheck protection,’ doesn’t ring a bell with people,” he said.

The paycheck legislation has been backed by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as well as Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group.

Dan Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber, said he sees the legislation as ensuring a fundamental right.

“You should be able to decide how your money is used,” he said. “It could have been a stronger bill, but we’re happy with the progress the issue has made.”

The paycheck deduction bill is Senate Bill 29.

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