'Right to work' measure has first Capitol hearing Monday

The proposed constitutional amendment to restrict unions' ability to organize ignited passions on Senate floor.

Get ready to hear some noise at the State Capitol -- the controversial "right-to-work" constitutional amendment will be up for a committee vote on Monday.

The measure, which would restrict unions' ability to organize, ignites passion and raucous crowds like few others. Union members and DFLers say the measure undercuts hard-fought employee rights; some business owners and Republicans say it gives job creators the freedom to run their workplaces as they wish. Both sides will have a chance to voice their feelings in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee starting at 8 a.m. Monday.

On Thursday, action in the Senate highlighted those deeply held beliefs. Senate floor action came to a long pause as legislators grappled with something that is usually routine -- changing the committee where the bill will have its first hearing.

On the Senate floor, Republicans proposed switching the committee path from starting with the Jobs Committee to starting with the Judiciary Committee. While they said the new route simply to manage the work of the committees, DFLers suggested it was designed to take the bill away from a less friendly committee.

"Don't you have the votes?" DFL Sen. John Marty, of Roseville, asked GOP Sen. Geoff Michel, chairman of the Jobs Committee. Michel, R-Edina, did not directly address the question nor did he pledge that his committee would ever hold a hearing on the measure.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said after the debate that he believed that he did have the votes to pass the constitutional amendment out of the Jobs Committee. He also said that the move was not his idea.

"That decision was brought to me," Thompson said.

After keeping the voting board open for many long minutes, during which various members huddled in discussion, the Senate approved the move on a 34-30 vote.

A few hours after the tense time on the Senate floor, the Senate announced the Monday hearing.

"I am excited to move this bill, which would give the people an opportunity to decide this issue themselves," Thompson said.

If a majority of lawmakers in the House and Senate approves the measure, it would appear on voters' November ballots. If a majority of those voting approve of it, the measure would be enshrined in the state Constitution.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @rachelsb

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