A U.S. Supreme Court decision Tuesday validates a Utah law involving government employees and automatic payroll deductions, a measure that has been on hold several years since it passed in the 2001 legislative session.
The court's ruling in an Idaho lawsuit, Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association, states that taxpayers can no longer be compelled to collect political contributions for public employee unions. State bans on political payroll deductions were found by the high court to be constitutional, with a 6-3 majority ruling that such bans do not infringe the unions' First Amendment rights, like some Utahns believed when the initial bill was passed.
"We think it is a sad day when dedicated public servants, like educators and people who work for the state, won't have the same right to participate in the political process as wealthy individuals, as corporations and as people who work for private companies," said Kim Campbell, president of the Utah Education Association.
The UEA now loses its ability to deduct contributions from the individual paychecks of its members.
Campbell said the payroll deduction process was a "convenience" that allowed teachers, who might not have had the ability to write out a large contribution, to have a collective say in their own careers.
When the law was passed in 2001, UEA threatened to sue, declaring that the ban was unconstitutional. Two federal circuit courts agreed but stayed the law until the Supreme Court justices decided the Idaho case.
Tuesday's ruling upholds paycheck protection laws in Idaho and Ohio and means that Utah's paycheck-protection law takes effect immediately. Union members can still make contributions but must do it of their own accord and make payments on an individual basis.
"This makes it more difficult for small donations to have an effect," Campbell said. "Every education decision that is made is a political decision. From class size to textbooks, those decisions are made by policy-makers." Money collected from UEA's approximately 18,000 members, she said, helps to elect "public-education friendly" legislators.
But M. Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, said the court's decision is a victory for taxpayers, whose money was being used to administer the paycheck deductions resulting in contributions to unions they may not generally support.
"In this tough economic times, this decision is a huge victory for teachers and public employees," he said. "Now Utah teachers and other public employees can put food on the table, instead of being forced to fund the union's liberal political agenda."
During the one year that the Voluntary Contributions Act was in effect in Utah, the UEA political-action committee's fundraising fell 75 percent, and the Utah Public Employee Association political-action committee's fundraising dropped to zero, according to Van Tassell.
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