GOP leadership hopes to salvage anti-union measure for November ballot

PHOENIX -- Republican legislative leaders are planning a special session beginning Monday in a last-ditch bid to put an anti-union measure on the November ballot.

House Majority Leader John McComish said Wednesday there appear to be enough GOP lawmakers both available and willing to support the measure for a three-day session beginning Monday. The goal would be to fix the wording of what had been Proposition 108 to correct flaws that the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Tuesday make it illegal to put to voters.

"It's an issue that we as Republicans agree with,' he said. "It's responsible to see that it legally gets on the ballot.'

But time is running out.

Secretary of State Ken Bennett said the deadline for putting something on the ballot is actually Tuesday.

The Arizona Constitution requires that all measures be read on three separate days, making Wednesday the earliest day for final action for a session set to begin Monday after lawmakers return from a conference in San Diego.

Those rules can be waived with a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate. But with every Democrat opposed to the plan -- and Republicans not controlling that many seats -- they have to take the full three days.

Bennett said, though, he can reserve space if it's clear on Tuesday that there are the votes for final approval next Wednesday. But being different, it would legally have get a new number and appear on the ballot as Prop 113.

The revised proposal would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment guaranteeing that any decision by an employee group to organize a union would have to be conducted by secret ballot. That is what is now required under the National Labor Relations Act.

But a proposal being pushed in Congress by unions would set up an alternate method: A union could be formed if half of the affected workers signed cards saying they want to organize.

That possibility has alarmed business groups and their allies. They contend that an open "card check' system like that, were union organizers know who has -- or has not -- signed cards will intimidate workers into going along, whether they really want to be unionized or not.

Attorney Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute, who is representing the business interests, acknowledged that the provisions of federal law generally preempt state regulations and even constitutional provisions. But Bolick said he believes that courts will uphold a decision by lawmakers in Arizona to protect the right of a secret ballot.

This actually would be the second time that GOP lawmakers have voted to send the measure to the ballot.

The first was last year when they approved the language crafted by the Save Our Secret Ballot organization, a national business-backed group pushing similar measures across the nation.

But that language covered not only provided for secret ballots for union elections but also for any local, state or federal elections. That resulted in a lawsuit by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99 saying it violates a prohibition against constitutional amendments dealing with more than one issue.

Courts generally have said the purpose of that ban is to prevent "logrolling,' where voters who want one provision are essentially compelled to approve something else they do not want.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Robert Oberbillig said the legal problems appear to go beyond that.

He said elections for public office already are by secret ballot. And Oberbillig questioned whether that provision wasn't included as an inducement to get voters to approve the more controversial union measure.

Bolick said, though, he believes that the stripped-down measure lawmakers will put on the ballot next week -- one with just the provision on union elections -- will be approved by Arizona voters, even without the other language.

Brewer already has said through an aide she would call the special session if enough Republicans can be found to come to the Capitol in August. The governor herself is a supporter of the constitutional amendment.

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