Republicans Schedule Last-Minute Hearing on Bill to Suppress Worker Rights
Republican legislators “doing the governor’s dirty work for his high-priced New York City lawyer,” said Rep. Martin
AUGUSTA, May 30 – House Democrats fought unsuccessfully last week against an eleventh-hour motion to send a controversial bill to suppress worker rights, LD 309, back to the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee for a last minute public hearing on June 2, only nine days prior to final adjournment. Republicans passed the motion by a razor thin margin in a vote of 74 to 71.
The bill first arrived in the Labor Committee on Feb. 2, where it was expected to have a public hearing in February or March, like other bills dealt with this session. The bill sat for months with no public hearing scheduled until May 17 when, under a joint House-Senate rule, the bill was taken back from the committee to the floor of the House by the Speaker, where it was held for further discussion. House Republican leadership then pushed to send the bill back to committee during the vote today.
“I have great frustration with this motion and this bill,” said Rep. Emily Cain of Orono, the House Democratic Leader. “It was pulled from committee with no clear explanation of why it had no public hearing — now it is being sent back with no clear explanation.”
Cain added “This looks like an intentional attempt to derail and distract from serious bipartisan negotiations on pension and retiree health issues in the budget.”
Public hearings for measures are typically held in the early months of the session. It is highly unusual for committees, other than the Appropriations Committee, to meet and work in June.
The controversial bill would repeal a current law that says that all workers who benefit from representation and bargaining share the costs, whether or not they are members of an organized labor group.
In nearly two hours of questioning, at least 15 House Democrats rose to repeatedly ask why the bill was being sent back to committee in an unusual procedural motion at this time.
“What’s the urgency?” said Rep. Adam Goode of Bangor, “Why not take up this controversial measure next session when we don’t have the pressure of budget negotiations hanging over us?”
Rep. John Martin of Eagle Lake made several procedural motions to kill the bill, but ultimately failed in very close partisan votes.
Martin accused the Republican legislators of “doing the governor’s dirty work for his high priced New York City lawyer.”
He added “It is my understanding that this is the result of pressure from the governor and his high-paid lawyer in an effort to undermine state employees rights in negotiating their contract.
Governor Paul LePage is using taxpayer dollars to pay a private lawyer to renegotiate the employment contract with state workers.
Democrats argued the late floor motion to send the bill back to committee was harmful to the legislative process and could potentially harm efforts to attain a two-thirds budget.
Rep. Sharon Treat of Hallowell said the move was a clear “gaming of the rules.”
“This stands in stark contrast to a fair and open process,” said Rep. Mike Carey of Lewiston.
Goode added that the move was part of a developing pattern by the governor and Republican leadership of not giving the public enough time to understand the major issues.
“First it was the reckless health care proposal that was ramrodded through the legislature two weeks ago, last week it was charter schools, now we’re seeing it in the House Chamber with labor,” Goode said.
The bill heads back to committee for a public hearing on June 2.