Governor Signs Dues-Collection Legislation Deemed Ambiguous if not Unconstitutional
OKLAHOMA CITY – The governor’s signature on a measure that even several Republicans believe is intended to punish Oklahoma teachers was condemned Thursday by Democrats in the state House of Representatives.
House Bill 1749 was signed by the governor and goes into effect Nov. 1.
The bill forbids any state agency from making payroll deductions “on behalf of a state employee for membership dues in any public employee association or organization or professional organization that on or after Nov. 1, 2015, collectively bargains on behalf of its membership.”
Similar legislation was introduced this year in Texas and Pennsylvania. HB 1749 purportedly was patterned after legislation enacted in Wisconsin.
The bill expressly states that the term “state agency” includes public school districts, the State Regents for Higher Education and the “institutions, centers, or other constituent agencies of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education,” and state Career Technology centers.
“House Democrats are disappointed that Governor Fallin chose to play politics with the lives of our sorely oppressed public school teachers, by signing a patently unconstitutional measure,” said House Democratic Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City. HB 1749 “punishes teachers for standing up for their rights and the interests of the children they teach.”
Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, said HB 1749 is ambiguous, at best, if not unconstitutional.
During House debate on the bill Feb. 18, Rep. Tom Newell, principal author of HB 1749, said the legislation would affect only those organizations “that collectively bargain against the state.”
Inman asked whether police officers and firefighters would be affected by the legislation. No, said Newell, R-Seminole, because, “They bargain collectively at the local level.”
But Perryman said that neither the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), nor the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), nor the Professional Oklahoma Educators (POE), nor the National Education Association, collectively bargains for Oklahoma’s 42,000 teachers. Collective bargaining “is done by the local entity that represents the teachers…”
“There’s zero cost” in the payroll deduction of educators’ dues “because it’s done by computer,” Inman said.
“It’s like a donation to a non-profit entity,” Perryman said.
Newell, though, said that the state withholding enables the OEA to “forego the cost of collecting their dues.” The state government is “subsidizing” teachers’ unions “by being the dues collection system for them.” Any teacher can contribute to a union by arranging an automatic payroll draft at his/her bank, Newell said.
If the Legislature intends to target subsidies, “Let’s be consistent,” said Rep. Eric Proctor, pointing to expensive tax credits issued to wind energy companies, among others.
As for inconsistency, Rep. David Dank pointed out current payroll deductions allowed under state law include 69 entities, not just the OEA.
They include more than two dozen credit unions, banks and savings associations; private insurance organizations for life, accident, and health insurance, private insurance organizations or service companies for legal services such as Pre-Paid Legal, and independent insurance agencies for retirement plans; statewide employee associations such as the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, Oklahoma State Troopers Association, and the Communication Workers of America / Oklahoma State Workers Union; the Correctional Peace Officers Foundation; the Oklahoma College Savings Plan; subscriptions to “Oklahoma Today” magazine; and educational employee organizations upon request by instructional personnel at the state schools for the blind and for the deaf.
“Let’s not be hypocritical,” said Dank. “We’re doing this to punish a group” that opposes charter schools and education vouchers, which are hallmarks of conservative education policy. The Oklahoma City Republican also informed his colleagues that the OEA does more than just lobby lawmakers. For example, when his late wife was a school teacher she secured health insurance through the union, he said.
If the intent of HB 1749 is to discourage lobbying by educators, the oil and gas industry “has more lobbyists in the Capitol than anyone,” said Proctor, D-Tulsa.
HB 1749 exacerbates the “morale problem” that has spread among school teachers because they are constantly “under attack,” said Rep. James Lockhart, D-Heavener.
“This is a thinly disguised and mean-spirited attempt to hinder the ability of teachers across our state to associate,” Perryman asserted on the House floor. The bill is “clearly a slap at educators” because they have “attempted to engage in the political process,” he wrote Friday in an email to an analyst in the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES).
Since supporters of HB 1749 believe it is wrong for the state to withhold teacher union dues from their paychecks, then those same legislators should stop having their dental, health and life insurance premiums automatically deducted from their state paychecks, Proctor told his House colleagues. Instead, those legislators should pay their insurance premiums the same way they contend teachers should pay theirs: via automatic bank draft or by personal check or credit card.
HB 1749 cleared the Legislature on a 59-39 vote in the House on Feb. 18 and a 27-16 Senate vote on March 26. Eleven Republicans, including Dank and House Speaker Pro Tempore Lee Denney, R-Cushing, joined 28 House Democrats in opposition to the measure. In the Senate, 11 Republicans joined five Democrats in opposing the measure.
In his response to an inquiry from a senior analyst in the OMES Budget and Policy Division, Perryman urged the governor to veto HB 1749 and listed several reasons why he voted against the bill. Among them:
- The legislation is “technically flawed because of bad verbiage,” he contended. The bill says it excludes political subdivisions, but in the very next sentence it says schools are state agencies. However, state statutes “clearly define a school district as a political subdivision,” Perryman, an attorney, pointed out. Also, he continued, Article X, Section 26, of the Oklahoma Constitution “makes it abundantly clear that a school district is a political subdivision.”
- A section of existing state law that “specifically and expressly” requires school districts to make payroll deductions for professional organization dues and political contributions “was not amended nor repealed” by HB 1749 “and therefore remains law.”
- So long as the State of Oklahoma “allows any automatic deductions from any paycheck for any employee benefit of any nature whatsoever,” the provisions of HB 1749 are “blatantly discriminatory” and violate state and federal constitutional rights of teachers.
- The “retaliatory intent of the bill is transparent and it should be beneath the dignity of the Office of the Governor of the State of Oklahoma to lower itself to the crass pettiness of the authors of this bill and those senators and representatives who voted for it,” Perryman wrote.
MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
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