Missouri right-to-work bill could be debated this week

04/07/2014 7:35 AM

04/07/2014 7:35 AM

Lawmakers are on the verge of diving into the most politically explosive issue they’re likely to confront this year.

Or maybe they aren’t.

House Majority Leader John Diehl, a Republican from the St. Louis suburbs, told reporters that

he plans to bring up so-called right-to-work legislation

for debate as early as Wednesday, as long as the bill’s sponsor and House Speaker Tim Jones are finished reworking language that would eventually appear on the August ballot.

Even before Diehl’s comments, national groups – including

Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform

and the American Conservative Union – declared the bill would be brought up for a vote this week.

But as Republicans prepare to plunge into a political showdown with organized labor nearly 40 years in the making, whether they have the votes to actually pass a right-to-work bill is still very much in question.

That’s especially true following a vote last week on a separate labor bill, where

20 Republicans joined Democrats in opposition

. The bill passed the House with only one vote to spare, and several Republicans who voted in favor are on record opposing right-to-work. House leaders aren’t typically eager to bring bills up for a vote unless they are sure they have enough support to guarantee a victory.

Right-to-work legislation – which would prohibit the payment of fees for union representation as a condition of employment – has been a political goal for Missouri Republicans for decades.

To supporters, the law would make Missouri more attractive to business and ultimately increase employment in both union and non-union workplaces. But detractors argue the laws actually drive down employee wages and negatively affect workplace safety.

Jones, a Eureka Republican, has called the issue one of his top legislative priorities, and it was the first bill to receive a committee hearing this year. But progress stalled when House leaders decided to wait until the filing deadline to run for office had passed last month before bringing the legislation up for a vote.

Because Gov. Jay Nixon has vowed to veto any right-to-work bill, the legislation aims to bypass the Democratic governor and put the issue directly on the August ballot for voters to decide.

The last time Missouri voters considered such a change was in 1978, when the proposal was soundly rejected. In the intervening years union membership has plummeted.

The House will be returning to session Monday evening at 7 p.m. The unusually late start time – lawmakers usually begin their week at 4 p.m. on Monday – is because legislators

didn’t want to miss the St. Louis Cardinals home opener.

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