The Columbus Dispatch did something it hadn’t done so far in the SB 5 debate, it finally found something to criticize the Republicans for considering: letting voters break union/management negotiation impasses.  It apparently is that this idea was being considered more seriously than I realized.  The only reason the Dispatch would write this editorial is if the House GOP hadn’t abandoned the idea already.

As we discussed early last week, the Republicans are struggling to find something to replace binding arbitration.  And those struggles apparently continue.  Yesterday, the Dispatch gave what has so far been the only real hints as to what changes are likely to be made to the bill by the House Republicans.

House Republicans, a number of whom have close ties to the local police and fire unions, have proposed several ideas, including using retired judges and allowing voters to vote on final contracts. Blessing said the system should not let either the union or government have a say in who resolves an impasse.

Legislative leaders also will clarify that safety forces can bargain over equipment. . . Legislative leaders also are looking at changes to how merit pay is defined in the bill, and some observers wonder if House Republicans will include language allowing public workers to refuse to have union dues taken from their paychecks through "fair share."

Although some House Republicans, like their counterparts in the Senate, have expressed interest in carving out the public safety unions (police/firefighters, in particular) from SB 5, Speaker Pro Tempore Louis Blessing that he doesn’t expect any such carve out to make it into the final bill.  Over the last several days, the Dispatch has also reported that approval to the House changes by the Senate in order to avoid a conference committee is less than a guaranteed thing:

Blessing said the chances of avoiding a conference committee are "probably 2-1 in our favor." [Source: Dispatch (3/26/11)].

For the GOP’s sake, I hope Blessing isn’t serious.  The political stakes are huge for them, and I can’t imagine that they’d really want this bill to be tied up in a referendum that is far more likely to bump Democratic turnout than Republican turnout if it’s on the ballot next year.  Maybe the GOP believes if they have a year to campaign on SB 5 they can change people’s minds as political tempers cool.  Maybe the House is playing a game of chicken with the Senate.  I dunno. 

But I cannot imagine that the House would proceed on a bill unless they were assured it had the votes in the Senate to pass and avoid a conference committee, thus ensuring that the referendum on the bill will be on the ‘12 Presidential ballot in Ohio.

What we’re left with is that the House Republicans will try to resolve what was seen, even by the few who SUPPORT SB 5, as one of the most glaring flaws in the bill.  The problem is that one of the two alternatives has been blasted by papers that favor and oppose SB 5 uniformly.  If the House Republicans add one of the Americans for Prosperity’s provisions, to eliminate the automatic deduction of dues for non-union members who directly benefit from collective bargaining agreements, it might be enough to push Karen Gillmor or Frank LaRose into opposition.  But if the Republicans can pick up Grendell and Seitz, it’s a wash, and the bill avoids a conference committee.

Hmm, maybe those 2:1 odds weren’t so conservative after all…  But the biggest problem for the GOP isn’t replacing collective bargaining, it’s how politically unpopular it is.  And the voters won’t have nearly as many problems replacing the GOP come next November.

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