Republicans in the Minnesota Senate took an unusual step today by moving a bill from one committee to another before the first committee voted on the measure. The bill in question is a proposed constitutional amendment would allow voters to decide whether workers could voluntarily avoid paying union dues.
Sen. Dave Thompson, R- Lakeville, requested that the so-called “right-to-work” bill be moved from the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It’s a simple procedural move, but it upends the typical Senate process that allows policy committees to debate and vote on bills that fall within their jurisdiction.
Several union lobbyists said Thompson made the move because there weren’t enough votes in the Jobs Committee to approve the bill.
Thompson said he believes the Judiciary Committee was a better place to consider the bill, and that there would be plenty of debate.
“I don’t have the least bit of concern that the public won’t have an opportunity to learn about this and provide all of the input that they’d like to provide in the judiciary committee,” Thompson said. “I feel that the public will in no way be short-changed by going to this committee.”
The Senate voted 34-30 in favor of Thompson’s request to move the bill. Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, switched his vote from no to yes to reach 34 votes. Gimse said that he switched his vote to help move the amendment along.
“They needed my vote to see the bill progress on to the Judiciary Committee,” Gimse said. “My protest was heard but I want it to go to the Jobs Committee also and follow the legislative procedure.”
Gimse said he hopes the bill goes back to the Jobs Committee at some point. Gimse said he wasn’t sure how he would vote on the amendment.
Every Democrat and Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, voted against it.
Sen. Jim Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, said he was disappointed that Jobs and Economic Growth Chair Geoff Michel was willing to give up control of the bill and worried about the precedent that the vote set.
“Let’s find the time and do it the right way,” Metzen said. “I think we’re going down the wrong path here and if we continue to do this it’s a terrible slippery slope.”
The state’s labor unions have been actively working to defeat the proposed constitutional amendment.
If the House and Senate both pass it, the question would be put to the voters this fall.
UPDATE: The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear the bill on Monday, March 12 at 8am in Room 15 of the State Capitol.