- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Senate Republicans used a rare procedural motion Tuesday to shut down debate and pass a right-to-work measure - a move Democrats say will bring business to a halt as this week’s deadline to pass bills nears.

The Senate voted 21-13 to approve the bill that prohibits workplace contracts in which union fees are collected from nonmembers. Supporters say it would attract more businesses to Missouri and improve the state’s economy.

The motion to force a vote hadn’t been used since 2014, when it was employed to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a measure tripling the waiting period for abortions. Prior to that, it had not been used since 2007.

The right-to-work legislation, which opponents say could lead to lower wages and make training more difficult, now goes back to the state House, which passed a similar version earlier this year. A final House vote would send the bill to Nixon, who has indicated he likely would veto it.

Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, a Joplin Republican, had said the right-to-work issue was a priority of his and would be handled before anything else as Friday’s deadline to approve bills approaches. But Democratic Sen. Scott Sifton of St. Louis County called Republicans’ use of the motion “the nuclear option.”

“This session has already gone badly enough for working Missourians. We can’t allow it to get any worse,” Sifton said.

He and other Democrats, in an attempt to block any other moves by the Republicans, were forcing roll-call votes on multiple motions on Tuesday.

One priority both parties have said they support could be imperiled by the procedural gridlock. That’s a set of taxes on medical service providers that provides a significant chunk of Medicaid funding in the state. The current authorization for the federal reimbursement allowance expires in September.

Sifton suggested that Nixon would have to call a special session to pass that reauthorization. If the taxes are not approved, the state’s Medicaid program would lose about $3.58 billion in funding.

Democratic senators clearly signaled they were not planning to allow a vote on the right-to-work measure. Democratic Sen. Jason Holsman of Kansas City said the move to force a vote was a political ploy, because the Republicans don’t appear to have enough votes to override a veto by Nixon.

The House voted 91-64 for a similar version of the right-to-work measure in February. That’s short of the 109 votes that would be needed to override a veto. The Senate vote of 21 also is short of the 23 needed for an override.

Republican Sen. Dan Brown, of Rolla, said that could change when a veto override vote is called.

“I don’t know how you’re a Republican if you don’t support right to work,” said Brown, sponsor of the Senate version. “This is an economic development bill for all parts of Missouri.”

He said a right-to-work law still would allow people who want to join a union to do so.

Those who are not union members but work at businesses with contracts that include a “union security clause” cannot be forced to pay membership dues. However, they can be required to pay fees for services the union provides to all workers, such as collective bargaining.

Four Republican senators voted against the right-to-work legislation: Ryan Silvey, Paul Wieland, Gary Romine and Tom Dempsey.

Under Missouri’s current law, “you have the ultimate freedom to choose whether you want to be in a union or not,” by simply not taking a job that requires union fees, Silvey, of Kansas City, said.

The vote came after a more than eight-hour filibuster by Democrats and some Republican opponents. Republican Sen. Bob Dixon, of Springfield, supports right to work and voted for the measure but warned that using the motion to force a vote - which has happened only 14 times since 1867 - would harm the decorum of the Senate.

“The impact and the imprint that it can have on future legislative sessions can be tremendous,” Dixon said.

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Right-to-work legislation is HB 116.

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Online:

House: https://www.house.mo.gov

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