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Bill targets union dues deduction

The state House approves a measure requiring teachers unions to bargain for a paycheck deduction.

By ALISA ULFERTS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001


The state House approves a measure requiring teachers unions to bargain for a paycheck deduction.

TALLAHASSEE -- Lawmakers thought they would beat back an effort Monday to strip unions of their ability to deduct dues from teachers' paychecks.

Not so.

Two hours after the bill failed in the House, Republican leaders had changed enough minds to pass the bill on a second try.

"I wouldn't say there was pressure," said state Rep. Bob Allen, R-Merritt Island, one of several lawmakers who changed his vote from no to yes.

"We were all just immediately updated," Allen said of House GOP members who had voted no. Allen said he changed his vote after learning more about the bill.

Republicans hold a 77-43 majority in the House -- a fact that made the bill's original 50-62 defeat surprising.

The bill eventually passed 65-49, but not before representatives from both sides invoked the First Amendment's guarantees of free speech and assembly.

"The bills I love most in the Legislature are the bills that set people free," said supporter state Rep. Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City.

"Let's set these schoolteachers free to teach."

The bill, if adopted by the Senate and signed by Gov. Jeb Bush, would stop the state from deducting union dues from teachers' paychecks, a common practice for any employer whose workers are in a union. Instead, the union would have to bargain to have paycheck deduction included in its contract.

Even then, teachers union dues could not be used for anything other than direct support of the union. They could not be used to support political candidates or social causes.

But opponents of the bill called it pure Republican political payback for teachers unions, which tend to support Democratic candidates.

"This is political power out of control," said Democratic Leader Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach.

"This is your way of saying, "Shut up teachers, sit down,' " Frankel said.

Added state Rep. Will Kendrick, D-Carrabelle: "This bill is not about children. This bill is not about schools . . . It's about the inability of some in these chambers to have total control" over campaign financing.

Supporters of the bill said it would protect teachers from having to pay for political activity they did not support. Many teachers never learn they can request a refund for political expenditures, said teacher and state Rep. Heather Fiorentino, R-New Port Richey.

"I never knew that they took some of my money and put it toward political campaigns," said Fiorentino, a former union representative.

"Nor did I know I could have asked for that money back," Fiorentino said.

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