- Associated Press - Saturday, March 22, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri House Republican leaders are vowing to consider one of their top priorities, legislation known to supporters as “right to work,” when lawmakers return from their weeklong break.

The bill that would prohibit labor contracts from requiring that all employees pay union fees, regardless of whether workers are union members, was the first measure considered by a House committee this year and was named a top priority by the Republican speaker.

Although there has been little public movement on the issue since those early days in January, House leaders now say the issue will be debated in the second half of the session.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, has consistently said passing the legislation would be on the forefront of the chamber’s agenda this year. Talking to reporters before the Legislature left town for spring break, he said he wants the bill debated on the House floor.

“I think around the country you are seeing the states that have the greatest economic prosperity and creating the most jobs are those that are right to work states that allow worker freedom and choice,” he said.

Republican Majority Leader John Diehl, R-Town and Country, said House members would meet after the break to discuss the legislation.

Those deliberations could come as the Missouri State Building and Construction Trades Council holds a planned rally at the Capitol on Wednesday. The council’s president, state Sen. Gina Walsh, said the rally would raise awareness of the importance of protecting unions and combating right to work.

“I know that it is an issue I’ll fall on my sword for,” said Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors. “This isn’t a union issue, this is a human issue.

The legislation faces an uphill road to become law in Missouri. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon is opposed and would likely veto the bill. Senate Republican leaders have previously expressed skepticism on the bill’s chances in that chamber, where Walsh and other Democrats could stage a filibuster.

When the House returns, it has a number of different versions of the right to work legislation to consider. Nixon’s opposition has led some supporters to consider sending the issue to voters for approval rather than the governor’s desk.

Of the five proposals endorsed by a House committee, two would need voter approval after passing both the House and Senate. But there is a divide on which date to hold the election. One bill would go to the November ballot while the other measure would appear on the August primary ballot, which typically has a lower turnout.

An additional version of the legislation would also rely on voter approval, but would let individual Missouri counties hold separate elections on whether right to work should be adopted in that county. The other two bills endorsed by a House panel would go to Nixon’s desk for approval.

When lawmakers return, right to work might not be the only labor policy debated by the House. The chamber is planning to take up separate legislation that would require public employees to give annual written authorization for union fees to be automatically deducted from their paycheck. Under the bill, similar consent would be required for unions to spend fees on political activities.

The measure, which supporters call “paycheck protection,” was passed by the Legislature last year and then vetoed by Nixon. The current House version would refer the measure to the ballot instead of Nixon’s desk.