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Gov. Greitens delivers first State of the State address

The Missouri State Capitol building on the eve of Gov. Eric Greitens' first State of the State address in Jefferson City on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY • In a double blow to Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature, two judges Friday blocked laws approved last year that opponents believe would have undermined public-sector unions.

In one ruling, Circuit Judge Joseph Walsh halted a so-called “paycheck protection” law from going into effect until a final judgment is entered in a lawsuit filed in August by public sector workers.

A second Cole County ruling put on hold a sweeping rewrite of the state’s hiring and firing practices, potentially jettisoning changes that were designed to allow for state workers to get merit raises.

The “paycheck protection” proposal, approved last year by the GOP-controlled House and Senate, was signed into law as one of the final acts of former Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned amid scandal last June 1.

The measure would limit the power of public-sector unions by allowing workers to decline to allow the union to spend part of its dues for political purposes. It also requires regular recertification elections, as well as raises the bar on what is necessary for those elections to succeed.

Specifically, all unionized government employees — other than first-responders and law enforcement officers — would have to opt in to have unions withdraw dues from their paychecks.

In his decision, Walsh said the law, known as House Bill 1413, would gut the state’s constitutionally guaranteed collective bargaining rules.

“In sum, a system like HB 1413 — in which very few conditions of employment are subject to meaningful bargaining, and the few conditions over which the parties can negotiate may be unilaterally abrogated by management — does not even give an illusion of collective bargaining,” he wrote.

Republicans have fought hard for the law. A similar version was approved three years ago, but former Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed it.

The sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa, said he was reviewing the ruling and couldn’t say yet if lawmakers would try to fix the problem before they adjourn in mid-May. “I’d say we’re more in a holding pattern right now,” Taylor said.

In a statement, Lori Sammelmann, an employee of the Ferguson-Florissant School District, said the law hurts rank-and-file government workers.

“This is another misguided effort from an out-of-touch Legislature that is hurting working people by attacking our right to bargain for better wages, safe work environments, and better learning conditions for our students,” Sammelmann said. “They want to make it harder to do our job, and they are picking fights to divert the attention away from teaching, education, and public services and eventually our students and taxpayers will suffer because of it.”

Walsh’s ruling means government jurisdictions, including school districts and cities, are prohibited from implementing the law until a final decision is entered in the lawsuit.

In the second case, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem issued an injunction blocking the state from implementing Senate Bill 1007, a plan that made significant changes to the state’s hiring system.

State officials have already used that law to begin hiring consultants to establish new rules for rewarding state workers, who are among the lowest paid in the nation. It was not immediately clear whether those efforts would be put on hold.

Beetem said the law impairs the bargaining rights of state workers, which are guaranteed in the state constitution.

Kurt Erickson is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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