JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. —
Members of the Missouri House doubled down on their calls to enact “right-to-work” laws in the state, part of the broader economic package they rolled out Wednesday when they began their 2014 session.
House Speaker Tim Jones, in an address to the chamber, said that in order to remain economically competitive with neighboring states, Missouri should become the 25th right-to-work state in the country.
“As 24 states have now empowered their workers over entrenched union bosses and given their workers the ultimate freedom to make their own choices, we owe it to all Missouri workers to give them the same freedom,” Jones said. “Across the country, jobs are created where the environment facilitates and encourages job growth.”
Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, said the policy — which aims to bar nonunion workers in union shops from having to pay union representation fees — would be good for Missouri. He said its only chance of passage would be if it was placed before voters on the ballot, where it would likely be the focus of a multimillion-dollar campaign.
“Labor will spend a whole lot of money, but there’s a lot of business money too,” he said. “It’s not about the money. It’s about the idea of job creation, and one of the biggest things if you ask any industry coming into Missouri — one of the biggest questions is whether Missouri will be a right-to-work state.”
Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said his chamber would take up the bill if it makes it over from the House, which he implied might not be as easy as the House leadership might believe.
“I’ve got to get it first,” Richard said of how actively he would work to get it passed in the Senate. “We’ll see if it gets out (of the House).”
If the bill is taken up in the Senate, its biggest hurdle could be getting past a filibuster led by Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, would not say whether Democrats would stall debate on the issue if it comes up, but she did say her members broadly oppose the policy because of its aim at union rights.
Sean Soendker Nicholson, executive director of Progress Missouri, an activist organization that helps organize communication for labor and progressive organizations, said Jones and other supporters of the policy are supporting corporate interests, not those of working-class Missourians.
“The so-called right-to-work law Jones seeks would hurt all of us in the middle class, whether we’re in a union or not,” he said. “The average worker makes about $5,000 less in so-called right-to-work states. That’s obviously not the kind of policy we need in Missouri.”
John Putnam, a Carthage-area Republican activist, was among dozens of people who gathered in Jefferson City to welcome the General Assembly back to the Capitol. Putnam said he was happy with the renewed focus of House Republicans on the right-to-work issue, which he said he has supported for years.
“Every year, you have to check with the guys in leadership,” he said. “In the past, they haven’t been willing to put it on the governor’s desk. I wasn’t up here at all last year. We didn’t get it to the governor’s desk when Matt Blunt was governor, and we had a Republican House and a Republican governor.”
Putnam said he thinks lawmakers should not only try to get the issue on the ballot, as House Republicans have suggested, but also place it on Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk.
Aside from right-to-work, Putnam — who has long touted his conservative views — said he was working to persuade lawmakers to have Missouri join a call for a national convention to amend the Constitution to enact term limits and a balanced budget requirement. Two-thirds of the states would have to be on board for such a convention to take place.
“There are a number of people who are suddenly seeing this as a viable option,” Putnam said. “Balanced budget amendment, term limits on federal legislators — they’ll never impose term limits on themselves. My interest is to return the balance of power that was created by the founders between the states and the federal government.”
Davis said he also is focused on legislation to help ease the transition for returning veterans back into the workplace. He has proposed legislation that would allow pharmacists licensed by the military to easily use that to transition into the civilian work force.
“If they’ve already gone through a lot of the training, they should be able to get the licensure for their field pretty quickly instead of a drawn-out process,” Davis said.
ASIDE FROM RIGHT-TO-WORK, House Speaker Tim Jones also highlighted his support of finding a fix for the school accreditation problem in the state’s urban core areas as well as circling back to the issue of tax cuts. Lawmakers in September were unable to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a tax-cut measure.