- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio | A legislative committee approved a measure Tuesday that would limit collective bargaining for 350,000 Ohio government workers, a key hurdle as the state moves closer to Wisconsin-style restrictions on public-employee unions.

The Republican-controlled House Commerce and Labor Committee voted 9-6 along party lines to recommend the bill after making more than a dozen substantive changes to the legislation that was approved by the Senate.

The committee’s changes make the measure even tougher on unions, making it more difficult for them to collect certain fees. But the committee also removed jail time as a possible penalty for workers who participate in strikes and made clear that public-safety workers could negotiate over equipment.

A vote on the bill in the Republican-controlled House could come Wednesday. The Senate, also led by Republicans, passed the bill earlier this month on a 17-16 vote and would have to agree to any House changes before Gov. John Kasich could sign it into law.

Similar limits to collective bargaining have cropped up in statehouses across the country, most notably in Wisconsin, where the governor earlier this month signed a measure into law eliminating most of state workers’ collective-bargaining rights.

Still, that Wisconsin law faces legal hurdles. On Tuesday, a judge issued an emergency injunction prohibiting enactment, but state Department of Justice spokesman Steve Means said the agency thinks the law was properly published and is in effect.

The Ohio measure would apply to public workers across the state, such as police, firefighters, teachers and state employees. They could negotiate wages and certain work conditions, but not health care, sick time or pension benefits. The measure would do away with automatic pay raises and would base future wage increases on merit.

Opponents have vowed a ballot repeal if the measure passes. State deadlines would require that Mr. Kasich sign the bill by April 6 in order for a referendum to be on the ballot this fall.

Democrats have offered no amendments. Instead, they delivered boxes containing more than 65,000 opponents’ signatures to the committee’s chairman.

The legislation was met with demonstrations and packed hearing rooms in the weeks before the Senate passed the measure. On Tuesday, several hundred protesters listened to the committee’s amendments over the loudspeakers positioned around the Statehouse before they headed outside to chants of “Kill the bill!”

The House committee returned to debate the changes Tuesday afternoon amid loud shouts from demonstrators gathered outside the hearing room. Their whistling and chanting at times made it difficult for lawmakers to hear each other’s questions and responses.

“These people have expressed their concern and their frustration with what the bill is going to do to their future,” said state Rep. Kenny Yuko, Richmond Heights Democrat.

The spokesman for the new Republican governor has said Mr. Kasich was pleased with the version passed by the Senate, but also was comfortable with the House changes.



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