A bill that would ban teacher and other public employee unions from having membership dues automatically deducted from paychecks won approval Thursday by a Louisiana House panel.
The vote was 9-6 by the House Labor Committee.
The measure next faces action in the full House, where debate is expected to be intense.
Under current rules, thousands of public school teachers, state troopers and other members of law enforcement rely on automatic payroll deductions to handle their union or association dues.
The legislation, House Bill 418, would end that practice.
The issue has sparked controversy for weeks, including emails and telephone calls to state lawmakers by advocates on both sides.
Last year, a similar bill failed in the same committee on an 8-8 vote that broke along party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.
Another proposal on the same issue died in 2013.
GOP lawmakers now enjoy a 9-6-1 advantage on the committee.
The vote Thursday again broke along party lines and set off dueling press releases from both parties moments after the vote.
While HB418 would apply to police and firefighter groups and others, it appears mostly aimed at teacher unions — the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators.
The influential Louisiana Association of Business and Industry is one of the chief proponents of the measure, which is shaping up as a high-profile showdown between industry and labor.
LABI President Stephen Waguespack compared the current practice to allowing dues for gun owners to be collected for the National Rifle Association. “Should the government collect those dues for them as well?” Waguespack asked.
He said utility payments, gym obligations and other services can easily be paid for with the touch of a cellphone that was unavailable when automatic union dues deductions were authorized half a century ago.
“It is quite easy,” Waguespack said. “Fifty years ago, it was not that easy.”
Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette and sponsor of the measure, said he hopes the measure spurs a boost in union membership. “But I don’t want our government involved,” Bishop said in closing comments to the committee.
A long list of union leaders blasted the measure during the three-hour plus hearing.
Julie Cherry, secretary-treasurer for the state AFL-CIO, said the bill is aimed at quieting the voice of working people.
“This bill to me is ill-timed, ill-advised and ill-informed,” Cherry said. “This is un-American.”
Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said the issue has no place during a 45-day session dominated by a $1.6 billion shortfall to keep state spending at current levels. “There are people taking your time, your valuable time, to divide a House, to have a House divided,” Monaghan said.
Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said she has relied on automatic payroll deduction for 40 years as an educator.
“Even in hard times, as a divorced woman, stopping union dues was never a serious consideration for me,” she said. “With payroll deduction, it was conveniently deducted from my salary, and I never had to worry about it.”
Louisiana Republican Legislative Delegation Chairman Lance Harris, of Alexandria, bristled at charges that the legislation is anti-teacher.
Harris asked opponents how they would feel if payroll deductions were allowed to support a conservative church that backs a controversial bill on same-sex marriage by state Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City.
“It is not about disparaging teachers,” he said. “It is not about disparaging the unions. It is a philosophical difference.”
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.