- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Legislative debate stretched several hours Tuesday night at the Iowa Capitol as Republican lawmakers tried to fast track votes on a bill that would eliminate most collective bargaining rights for public workers in the state.

In the end, both chambers of the GOP-controlled Legislature agreed to adjourn until Wednesday, following lengthy discussion by Democrats over amendments to essentially gut the bill.

Lawmakers had assembled in the legislative chambers to discuss identical versions of a bill that would prohibit workers like teachers, nurses and correctional officers from negotiating over issues such as health insurance, evaluation procedures and extra pay. The legislation is similar to a 2011 Wisconsin law on collective bargaining.

“I don’t get this bill,” said Democratic Sen. Tony Bisignano. “It’s mean-spirited and it’s ugly. It’s an attack on workers.”

Iowa’s collective bargaining law, passed in 1974, requires more than a dozen mandatory subjects of discussion for the state’s roughly 180,000 public sector employees. That would be reduced to base wages under the proposal, which was made public one week ago.



The legislation is expected to pass amid support from GOP legislative leaders, Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, the incoming governor. However, the timing of final votes remained unclear. Democrats have introduced dozens of proposed changes that could take even more hours to debate. GOP lawmakers said they will make some changes to the bill, though some members of the minority party countered it wasn’t enough.

Republicans argue the bill would give local employers more flexibility with their budgets and would allow them to reward top workers. The arguments are backed by the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, a powerful lobbying group in the state. The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, which offers analyses on proposed legislation, said there’s not enough information available to determine the total fiscal impact of the bill.

GOP Sen. Jason Schultz said the bill will “put taxpayers back in the driver’s seat.”

“It will allow state and local officials to develop employment contracts that make sense for taxpayers and employees,” he said.

Rep. Steven Holt, a Republican, echoed his colleague in the Senate, adding that “the common-sense reforms in this bill will result in a government in Iowa that is more responsive and more efficient.”

Democrats and union organizers have continuously shot down those assessments. Hundreds of people also challenged it during a public hearing Monday night at the Capitol.

Public safety employees, like law enforcement officers and firefighters, would be exempt from some of the bargaining provisions in the bill, though they would still be subject to other proposals. That includes a requirement that unions manually collect dues and that they hold more frequent elections on whether to dismantle.

Both provisions were key aspects of the Wisconsin bill. Since its passage, union membership in Wisconsin has dropped 40 percent.

Wisconsin’s legislation led to massive protests in that state, though such turnout is not expected in Iowa. Iowa has long been a right to work state, which means private-sector companies are prohibited from reaching labor agreements in which workers have to pay fees to the unions as a condition of employment. It generally means less union participation in the state.

The public galleries in the Senate were filled during floor debate, though there was a considerably smaller turnout at the Capitol compared to the previous night. Mary Beth West, a kindergarten teacher in Des Moines, said she was in the building to support her “brothers and sisters.”

“I don’t know what’s going to become of this, but I need to be here every step of the way so I know I’ve done everything I can,” she said.

___

Associated Press writers Linley Sanders in Des Moines, Iowa, and Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, contributed to this report.

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