Title of right-to-work fix sparks House spat

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Approval of bill titles — the first section of each piece of legislation that summarizes what the bill does –- generally aren’t matters of contention, but a bill in the House of Delegates Thursday was an exception.

Following a 52-48 vote to pass a bill (SB330) to delete erroneous sections of the right-to-work law that the Legislature passed in 2016 — a law that is currently being challenged in court — Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, attempted to amend the bill’s title to what he said would be a more accurate reflection of what last year’s legislation does.

Last year’s law is called the “West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act.”

“Using the term ‘workplace freedom,’ to my mind, gives no reference of what this bill does,” said Caputo, a United Mine Workers district vice president. “If we’re going to pass a bill, let’s be honest and let’s quit creating warm and fuzzy names, so we can go home and say we did good things for people.”

Caputo’s amendment would have changed the bill title to, “Relating to the right of workers to freeload off unions.”

Naturally, that set off objections and calls for points of order before Caputo’s title amendment was rejected on a 61-39 vote.

House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, told the House the bill makes “technical corrections” to the law, removing a provision in the definitions section of the bill that could be interpreted to limit the right to work law to public employees unions, as well as a section of the law that seemingly exempted building and construction trades from the law.

Both provisions are secondary arguments in a lawsuit in Kanawha Circuit Court brought by the state AFL-CIO and other labor unions seeking to overturn the legislation. The unions’ main argument is a contention that the law amounts to an illegal taking of union resources, since under federal law, unions are required to represent all employees in a union shop, including those that would opt out of paying union dues under the right to work legislation.

Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey issued a preliminary injunction in August blocking enforcement of the law until the court challenge is resolved.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey petitioned the state Supreme Court to overturn the injunction, arguing that the inability to enforce right to work is causing “irreparable harm to the state,” as well as confusion among employers, employees, and unions.

The Supreme Court on Monday refused the motion on a 3-2 vote, suggesting the proper mechanism is to, “seek an order from the circuit court and then pursue an appeal, if appropriate.” Justices Allen Loughry and Beth Walker voted to grant the motion, citing “extraordinary delay” in resolving the matter in circuit court.

On the House floor Thursday, Delegate Andrew Robinson, D-Kanawha, asked Shott if the bill was designed to “correct mistakes that we made last year.”

“I don’t know if it’s to correct mistakes,” Shott responded. “Sometimes we do take action to clarify issues.”

Robinson also asked if last year’s right to work bill went through a single committee in the House. Shott replied that he did not recall.

Last year’s bill had single-committee references in both the Senate and the House. One of the arguments for sending bills to two or more committees in each house is to allow more opportunities for members to correct errors they may find.

Delegate Scott Brewer, D-Mason, spoke against the law itself Thursday. “The sole intent is to de-fund and weaken unions,” he said.

The bill goes back to the Senate to act on a House amendment to the bill. The House removed part of the Senate’s version that would have made the bill retroactive to last July 1, when the original law was to take effect.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazettemail.com,

304-348-1220, or follow

@PhilKabler on Twitter.

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