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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Thrasher's union dues bill barely squeaks by



By a narrow 5-4 vote, the Senate Community Affairs Commitee voted out a bill Monday by Sen. John Thrasher to prohibit public unions from collecting dues through payroll deductions. Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, vigorously denied allegations that the bill was designed to hurt unions and acknowledged that unions contributed heavily to his Democratic opponent in November.

"What it does do is take the state and local government out of the businsess of being involved in political purposes,'' Thrasher said.  The unions say the measure is a back-handed attempt to quiet their political voice because it will force them to set up a new, less efficient bureaucracy to collect dues.

Thrasher won the votes it was clear the bill would have died absent the vote by Committee Chairman Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, who said he had concerns but agreed to move the bill to the next committee. Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, and Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, voted against the bill, as did the two Democrats on the committee, Sen. Jeremy Ring of Margate and Tony Hill of Jacksonville.

Norman said that as a conservative, he didn't believe the legislature should tell union workers how they should spend their money. "I can't be involved with big government sticking our hand in trying to deal with other people's money.''

Dockery said the bill had unfornately become a fight against Democrats and Republicans, businesses versus workers.

"I see no need forthis bill,'' she said. "I think we are picking a fight for these brave me and women who put their lives on the line every day...These are their dollars and they should have the right to spend their dollars and I don’t see why we’re meddling in their decisions.''

Major Graham W. Fountain, Walton County Sheriff's Office director for law enforcement operations, called it a "union-responsibility bill" and told the committee that as a former member of the Fraternal Order of Police and a current member of the Police Benevolent Association, he supports the bill. Collecting dues should be the responsibility of the unions, "and not our public workers," he said.

But Ring said that until then he had never heard a union member complain about the payroll deduction option and questioned whether the bill was needed. The cost of administering the payroll deduction is paid for by the unions, he said.

Thrasher agreed that there was no overwhelming outcry from union members to push the measure, but he said he did hear from the taxpayers. "They think their resources ought not be used to facilitate private political agendas."

-- Mary Ellen Klas and Katie Sanders


[Last modified: Monday, March 14, 2011 1:20pm]


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