COLUMBUS, Ohio - One week ago, Ohio's controversial collective bargaining reform bill was signed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
The bill, which has been the center of controversy and politically-charged arguments statewide, would permit public employees to collectively bargain on issues related to the wages, hours, terms and conditions of their employment, while also requiring that workers pay a share of their health and pension benefits that is more in step with what employees in the private sector pay.
The bill would also prohibit public employees from participating in a strike against the government, and contract disputes would be subject to a resolution process that provides transparency, allows taxpayer input and holds elected officials accountable for the final outcome.
On Monday, Ohio's Department of Administrative Services released estimates that the new collective bargaining law could save the state about $191 million each year. They also added that school districts, townships and other local governments could see more than $1 billion in savings annually. The estimates were based on parts of the law dealing with health care costs and wages.
Meanwhile, opponents have sprung into action to organize enough petition signatures to put the measure on the November ballot.
On Thursday morning, the Ohio Democratic Party sent the following message out to supporters:
"The Ohio Democratic Party is working with labor and other progressive groups to begin the herculean task of collecting at least 231,149 signatures needed to bring this issue to the ballot. We are thrilled that we already have over 1,500 volunteers committed to circulating petitions to collect these signatures."
Also this week, Ohio Democratic lawmakers proposed legislation that would allow voters to recall Gov. Kasich and members of the General Assembly.
While most legislators agree the bill has little chance of passing the Republican-controlled Statehouse, its sponsors said Ohioans should be given an opportunity to react to the collective bargaining limits just as voters are in Wisconsin.
But not everyone is joining the rally against SB-5. Earlier this week the Association of American Educators (a national group of non-union teachers) issued the following statement:
"The fact that Senate Bill 5 will save over $1 billion a year is a testament to the years of out-of-control demands by the unions. This law should be of no surprise to the leadership who have been overreaching for too long. Clearly lawmakers and voters aren't listening anymore to the overreaching mentality of the unions. If this is really about the children, as the teachers union claims, we need fiscal discipline and more efficient ways of running our schools, not insurmountable debt. Everyone wants to see educators paid fairly without the threat of layoffs. The union's over asking, overreaching model has created this problem, leaving legislators to take the heat when tasked with bailing out the sinking ship that is the state budget."
Likewise, an Ohio-based community group has started a Facebook campaign in support of Senate Bill 5: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Support-Ohio-Senate-Bill-5/111415848936503 .
On April 5, Gov. Kasich's office released an email written to the editor of the Columbus Dispatch from a woman named Connie Ash. Ash is a member of the OEA Union and is upset over the union's proposal to deduct extra money from their members in an effort to fund their Senate Bill 5 referendum.
Ash's March 23 email read:
"I am very upset with the OEA Union. I am a classified employee at a local school system and recevied a letter today to inform the membership that the OEA Assembly is going to assess each member $50 to fight against SB5. I am a fiscal conservative and belong to the Tea Party. I am appalled that the OEA feels they can (commandeer) funds from my pay check without my approval. I have had to sit by and watch my hard earned money fund the left for years and now another blow to me. I support SB5 and understand we need to turn around Ohio if we are to succeed. I would urge you to make Ohio a "right to work" state so I can get out of this union and continue on feeding the socialist programs the left endorse. I am also contacting an attorney to see if there is any hope of stopping the OEA from using my pay check as a personal bank account for their agenda. Thanks for listening and stand tough, we need you in Ohio."
Senate Bill 5 is not the last of the proposed budget-saving bills aimed at reforming the way Ohio does business with public employees.
On Thursday morning, the Ohio Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee resumed talks on Senate Bill 3.
Senate Bill 3 is a pension reform bill that would revisit the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) benefit formulas. Proposed changes as a result of Senate Bill 3 include an additional two years of service credit or of age to be eligible to retire, and requires members retiring based on 32 or more years of service credit
to be at least age 55.
Other changes proposed by SB-3 include changes to the cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) to no longer exceed 3 percent (from an automatic 3 percent increase) for benefits granted five years after the bill's effective date.
You can read more about Senate Bill 3 here: http://www.legislature.state.oh.us/bills.cfm?ID=129_SB_3
Employees who will be eligible to retire not later than ten years after the bill's effective date or who on that date have 20 or more years of total service credit would be exempt from the new criteria.
Talks about Senate Bill 3 are still in the beginning stages and there is no word on when it will be sent to the Senate floor for a vote.
A similar companion bill, House Bill 69, is also making its way through the early stages of talks.
Meanwhile, a group aimed at repealing Senate Bill 5 is planning a "We Are Ohio Campaign" launch on Saturday with a scheduled rally at noon on the Statehouse lawn.