The Washington Times - March 1, 2011, 11:09PM

Amid 7500 protesters at Ohio’s capitol building in Columbus, state senators sat in a committee hearing on Tuesday to discuss the legislation from the chamber that would reform the state’s 27-year old collective bargaining law. This is one way Republican Governor John Kasich is looking to repair Ohio’s $8 billion budget deficit.

Republican Senator Shannon Jones, sponsor of the much debated Senate Bill 5, outlined the key provisions of the proposed omnibus amendment. For those unaware of what Ohio Republican lawmakers are looking to change in the state’s collective bargaining law, Ms. Jones spelled it out clearly on Tuesday afternoon. Here are some of the points she made at the hearing: (bolding is mine):


On strikes and limitations on collective bargaining:

The omnibus amendment reinstates collective bargaining rights for state employees. It removes the right to strike for all public employees and establishes penalties for participation in a strike. It establishes that all matters pertaining to wages, hours, and terms of conditions of employment are subject to collective bargaining. It also establishes matters not appropriate for bargaining such as healthcare, pension pick ups, privatization of services, workforce levels and other provisions. 

On merit pay, evaluations of teacher performance, sick time, vacation leave, and employment contracts:

The amendment reinstates pay ranges but not the step values in automatic increases such as in current law. 

The employees are to be paid based upon merit within the ranges set in the statute. Merit shall be the only basis for an employee’s progression though the schedule. Teachers are paid based upon merit and salaries may be bargained in the collective bargaining agreement. 

Teacher performance is measured by considering the level of license held by the teacher. Whether the teacher is a highly qualified teacher is defined in statute. The value added measure used to determine student performance. The result in performance evaluations or any other system of evaluation or any other criteria established by the board. 

It establishes guidelines for employee vacation and sick time. It caps vacation leave at 7.7 hours per bi-weekly pay period after nineteen years of service. Current law caps vacation leave at 9.2 hours per bi-weekly pay period after 24 years of service. 

Sick leave for employees and offices of the county, municipal, and civil service township and state colleges and universities is accrued at 10 days a year. 

On determinations of layoffs, pay reductions, and pay ranges:

Prohibits length of service from being the sole factor in determining order of layoff and requires compliance with federal anti-discrimination statutes. 

For teachers, preferences given to teachers that are continuing contracts as is the case in substitute senate bill five, that a school board considers the relative quality of performance, same factor as with public employees pay ranges, as the principle factor of determining reductions. 

On final procedures if negotiations between employee and public employer go beyond 90 days:

With respect to the issue on dispute settlement, basically, what this is going to provide is when parties after 90 days are at impasse and are unable to reach agreement, the parties after showing their last best offer to the public will be able to request of serve that a mediator be appointed. At any point, the parties may ask for fact finding which again, they will be required to make a public statement to show where the parties remain in dispute. 

Once the fact finder has reached it’s report within 14 days after publication of that report, and one or both of the parties reject the fact finder’s proposal, then the final remedy would be that management and employee or the exclusive representative would have to present to the legislative body which governs their last best offer. 

The legislative body then must have a public hearing which could not be subject to executive session. And the legislative body would be required to finalize and choose either the last best offer of management or the last best offer of the employee as represented by the exclusive representative and cannot cherry pick between those two proposals. 

During the negotiations between a public employer and the exclusive representative for the purposes of determining the inability of a public employer to pay for any terms agreed to, only the employer’s current financial status of the time period surrounding the negotiations not any potential future increases in income. That would only be possible by the employer obtaining funds from an outside source including passage of a levy or bond issue, ability to sell assets, raise revenue or other revenue enhancements. 

Ohio Democrats argue they have not been given enough time to read the 437 page Senate 5 Bill and will not have enough time to read the 99 page omnibus amendment.

“At every step, we’re trying to give people ample time to review it, that’s why we didn’t vote on the omnibus amendment today. That’s why we’re giving everyone time to review it and provide feedback and that’s why a determination hasn’t been made definitively whether there will be a vote tomorrow,” Republican State Senator Kevin Bacon told me.

Freshman Democratic lawmaker Sean O’Brien, a state representative, noted to me earlier in the day: 

“[The Republicans] are pushing a big bill that’s affecting so many Ohioans so quickly through committees. They’re doing it in the Senate. I think they’ve only had 5 committee hearings on something this important, and then in the House, they’re probably going to do the exact same thing. They’re going to push it through committee. They’re going to put it on the floor and have a vote, and we can’t stop it.”

“There is 59 of them and only 40 of us. In the Senate it’s 10 to 23. So not having dialogue not sitting down. They haven’t even gotten all the amendments from the Senate yet,” he told reporters. “The fact that they’re not having an open dialogue just shows they don’t really care. They don’t need us. They don’t care. They’re going to push their agenda through, and there’s not much we can do to stop it.” 

Democratic Senator Joe Schiavoni, though, appears more confident.

“It’s far from over. We’re not done yet. We’re not rolling over. I mean its 23 to 10, but we have thousands of people that are out here and they are very concerned. If they had the votes to vote this thing through, then we wouldn’t be sitting here today, so they’re still working on it.”

When I asked Mr. Schiavoni if he knew of any Republicans who were wavering on the bill, he said: “Absolutely. I think its very difficult for a lot of Republican members to vote yes on this bill in its current form. They all have police, fire, teachers— all public employees in their district that they have to answer to.”

Interestingly, Ohio Democrats, like their counterparts in the Wisconsin legislature, sound similar to how Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C. did in 2010 during the healthcare debate. With no majority in either chamber at the time, Capitol Hill Republicans argued that Democrats quickly rammed through thousands of pages of healthcare legislation and gave no time for lawmakers to read the bill.

I wondered if any Democrats would compare their woes to the GOP’s in last year’s health fight.

“I’m sure this is probably how they felt. I’m not sure how they felt, but I can tell you how it feels being a freshman down here for my first time and seeing all of this. It’s something I didn’t expect. Our hands are tied. There’s not much we can do.” Mr. Obrien said.