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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published March 10 2012

Minnesota Political Notebook: Full house expected for right-to-work debate

ST. PAUL - If there ever was a full committee room, it will happen at 8 a.m. Monday in Room 15 of the Capitol when the Senate Judiciary Committee hears a proposed constitutional amendment that would remove a requirement that some workers belong to unions.

Union workers from across the state are expected to arrive at the Capitol in buses to oppose the proposal offered by Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville.

On Friday, Senate officials set up overflow seating to accommodate the expected huge crowd, which could be the largest for a legislative meeting this year.

Republicans want to give Minnesotans the right to decide whether to join unions. But Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, called the proposal to change state law the “right to work for less.” Republicans like to call their proposal “freedom to work.”

“All Minnesotans should have the freedom to choose whether or not to be represented by a union or pay union dues,” Thompson said. “This is a fundamental liberty issue.”

Unions, as could be expected, see things differently.

“Legislators should be focused on job creation,” said Jim Monroe of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees. “‘Right to work’ won’t create a single job. In fact, it will result in job losses. This amendment also means a cut in wages.”

Senators previewed the spirited fight that is expected in the coming days and weeks when Republican leaders moved the bill from the jobs committee to the judiciary committee. The decision to move the bill came in a lengthy and partisan debate on the Senate floor.

Mistake made

House Speaker Kurt Zellers said Rep. Mary Franson made a mistake when she appeared to compare welfare recipients to animals.

“Sometimes people make mistakes,” said Zellers, R-Maple Grove.

Franson, R-Alexandria, who has offered multiple apologies for the remarks, said her point was that people too often become dependent upon government aid. She said some people need government assistance, but others take advantage of it and remain on it too long.

She avoided about 15 Welfare Rights Committee protesters Thursday when she went to the House Agriculture Committee by a side door, escorted by security officials.

The protesters, chanting slogans urging Franson to quit, included a mother and her baby daughter. That prompted Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, to quip: “That baby’s first words will be ‘Franson resign.’”

A state band?

Amid all the noise coming from protests and heated debate at the Capitol, a House committee overwhelmingly backed a prettier noise.

The panel approved making the Minnesota State Fire Service Memorial Pipe Band the official state pipe band.

The bill has a long march before becoming law.

Bashing media

Rep. Mark Buesgens took up a favorite legislative sport the other day: bash the media.

The Jordan Republican rose during a House session Thursday to complain that no reporters or photographers attended a news conference he and Rep. Denise Dittrich, DFL-Champlin, held about business-related bills. It was a rare bipartisan news conference, and Buesgens said that the lack of coverage hid the fact that Republicans and Democrats can work together.

The two spent several minutes airing their gripes to fellow lawmakers, ending to a smattering of applause.


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Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.