‘Fair share’ bill that has avoided up or down vote still causing angst

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that has gotten zero public debate this session is still causing a great deal of angst among some lawmakers and lobbyists who fear it might sneak through at the last moment.

LD 309, known as the “fair share” bill, would eliminate the state’s requirement to collect union fees from nonunion public-sector workers.

State employees are not forced to join a union. However, if they benefit from union negotiations on contracts and in labor disputes, they must pay their “fair share” in fees that are automatically deducted from paychecks. Those fees, typically, are significantly less than standard union dues.

LD 309 would make payment of those service fees voluntary for approximately 2,500 nonunion state employees, but union supporters say the bill would cripple them.

The bill was carried over after heated debated during the 125th Legislature’s first session last year but has languished since.

The Labor Committee last week deferred action on LD 309, in large part because  Senate chair Chris Rector of Thomaston said the committee was divided and opted to avoid a vote.

But the bill didn’t die there.

When some saw it emerge on the supplemental calendar for the House late Tuesday, fear rattled the State House walls again that it would be pushed through.

Although it’s rare, presiding officers can pull from committee any bill that hasn’t been reported out. That’s what happened Tuesday.

But instead of debate and a vote, House Majority Leader Phil Curtis tabled LD 309.

Again, Tuesday’s action does not mean the bill is finally dead. It’s still technically sitting in the Houes.

Supporters of the measure, including Gov. Paul LePage, would like to see a vote. Even some Democrats who don’t support the bill want a roll call so they can use the result as an election season talking point.

No matter what, it’s likely that many in the State House won’t rest until the bill gets a roll call vote or until the session ends.

-ER