Legislative Notebook: GOP Pushes Right-to-work Amendment

Republican legislators want to give Minnesotans the option to opt out of unions, a subject that has created heated debate in many states.

“In Minnesota law, if a worker refuses to pay union dues, they are fired,” Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said Thursday. “This isn’t fair and it’s definitely not free.”

The labor community immediately shot back, saying such a move would hurt workers and businesses.

Drazkowski said the proposed constitutional amendment is the most important jobs-related bill possible. Jobs are created twice as fast in states that give workers the right to not be in unions, he added, than in states like Minnesota.

“Our bill is simple: Let’s allow Minnesotans to vote on whether or not an individual should be forced to pay a third party in order to work,” said Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville.

Thompson said anyone who wants to belong to a union still could do so if the constitutional amendment passes.

The “right-to-work” issue is important to Republicans, who control the state House and Senate. A constitutional amendment does not need approval of Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton; instead, if the House and Senate approve the measure it heads to voters in the Nov. 6 election.

“Minnesota consistently outperforms anti-middle class ‘right to work’ states like Mississippi and Alabama,” state AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson said. “Why would anyone want to enact something that is bad for working people and bad for business?”

Knutson discussed statistics that show Minnesota has fewer unemployed people and that Minnesotans earn $5,000 a year more than in right-to-work states.

Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said the right-to-work proposal is “nothing more than the right to work for less. It will cut wages, it will cut benefits.”

But Drazkowski said meetings Republicans have held around the state produced Minnesotans who want the right-to-work amendment.

Protecting dogs

Two lawmakers plan to introduce legislation to restrict us of so-called “body grip traps.”

The traps, designed to catch raccoons and bobcats, are legal on most public lands. They are made to kill quickly by breaking an animal’s neck.

Reports have surfaced in recent months of at least six dogs dying in the traps.

“We need to discuss the possible options we have to keep our dogs safe,” said Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood.

The bill Wiger and Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, plan would allow people to use the traps five feet above the ground or submerged in water. They say that would allow capture of “nuisance” animals, but not affect pets and hunting dogs.

Mayors pitch in

Gov. Mark Dayton has compiled a group of Minnesota mayors to advise his administration on tax reform issues that could come up before the Legislature.

Among items they will examine is Local Government Aid, a program that sends state funds to many cities. The group will help draw up a tax reform package Dayton plans to present to the 2013 Legislature.

“The Legislature’s continuing cuts to LGA have increased the financial pressures on local governments throughout Minnesota,” the Democratic governor said. “I look to this group of distinguished mayors to advise us on whether LGA should be revised, or simply funded.”

The mayor group is a combination of leaders of big and little cities, including Minneapolis, St. Cloud, Cloquet, Circle Pines, South St. Paul, Crystal, Rochester, St. Paul, Richfield, Duluth, Buffalo Lake, Worthington, Hoyt Lakes, Northfield and Granite Falls.