The Minnesota Senate floor action came to a long pause Thursday afternoon as Senators grappled, for the first time, with the controversial 'Right to Work' constitutional amendment.
At issue was a procedural move but the 30-minute discussion highlighted the deeply held emotions on the measure, which would restrict unions' ability to organize. Similar moves elsewhere have brought raucous crowds and national fights to state Capitols.
The move on Thursday was something that is generally routine -- changing committee where the bill will have its first hearing. The measure, known as 'Right to Work for Less' by opponents, has yet to have a committee hearing at all this year.
On the Senate floor, backers proposed switching the committee path from the Jobs Committee to the Judiciary Committee.
While Republicans said the new path was simply to manage the work of the committees, Democrats 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, who chairs 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.
"You would actually have to talk to the chairs and leadership about that. That decision was brought to me...I actually wasn't behind it," Thompson said.
Maple Grove Republican Sen. Warren Limmer, chair of the Judiciary Committee, said he had not counted the votes on his committee but he believed there were 'probably' enough votes to pass the measure.
After keeping the voting board open for many long minutes, during which various members huddled in discussion, the Senate ended up approving the move on a 34-30 vote.
Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, switched from voting against the move to approving the move while the voting board sat open. Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, voted against the move. GOP Sens. Julianne Ortman and Gary Dahms did not vote on the measure. Both Ortman and Dahms were excused for the day.
Here is the roll call tally of the vote: