School districts could no longer deduct political contributions from employee paychecks for the Utah Education Association under a bill approved by a Senate committee Monday.
SB182 would force UEA members wishing to contribute to the union's political action committee to mail in a check instead of having money automatically withheld.That could reduce the amount of money the UEA collects and spends on political campaigns. It would remove the government from the role of facilitator, which is the intent of the bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper.
Stephenson also wanted to restrict PAC contributions to the Utah Public Employees Association, but the Senate Business, Labor and Economic Development Committee amended the bill so that it applies only to unions and other employee associations that have national affiliations.
That change exempts the UPEA but prohibits PAC paycheck withholding by the UEA and certain police, fire and paramedic organizations, as well as any county or city employee groups that contribute to a national umbrella organization.
The amendment drew the ire of the two Democrats on the committee, Sen. Eddie Mayne, D-West Valley City, and Sen. Blaze Wharton, D-Murray. Both already opposed the bill, but said the amendment made it even worse. They said the bill should apply to all groups that represent government workers or none at all.
That argument also made sense to Sen. Howard Nielson, R-Provo. Nielson is one of 16 senators who agreed to co-sponsor the bill with Stephenson, but he said he could no longer support the bill as amended and would try to restore the bill's original language on the Senate floor.
Nielson, however, sided with the majority in a 4-2 vote to send the amended bill on to the Senate.
The committee, chaired by Sen. Steve Poulton, one of the bill's co-sponsors, tried to push the bill through with limited debate. Poulton, R-Holladay, said the same bill had been heard by the same committee the year before so little discussion was needed.
Susan Kuziak, UEA director of political action, said the bill was significantly different from the one Stephenson sponsored a year ago and deserved a full public debate.
She told the committee the bill would strengthen the political power of big business while weakening that of a small group of people with particular "philosophies, beliefs and activities."
"This targets only public employee groups," she said. "It does nothing to get the money out of politics."
Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Eagle Forum, said the bill would correct an existing imbalance. If public employee groups can have money witheld from their paychecks, she said, the same right should be extended to groups like the Eagle Forum, which also raise funds to push their own political agendas.
"We believe this is definitely a fairness issue," she said. "The PAC can still collect money. It just means they have to sit down and write a check."