(Updated 1:50 p.m. Mon., April 28)
After two weeks of vigorous lobbying, Republican leaders in the Missouri House acknowledge that they have yet to obtain the extra four votes needed to send to the state Senate a measure to put a "right-to-work" proposal on the August ballot.
“I’m not in the habit of bringing up votes unless the votes are secured,’’ said House Majority Leader John Diehl, R-Town and Country, in an interview late last week.
Diehl, who is slated to become the next state House speaker in 2015, had bluntly told reporters at the state Capitol earlier that a floor vote now would likely be a loss for supporters of "right to work."
On Monday, Diehl said in an interview that House GOP leaders will "reassess the situation'' later this week.
The House had given first-round approval to the proposal a couple weeks ago, but the winning margin was short of the 82 votes needed to forward it to the state Senate.
Under the state constitution, no House bill can win final approval without gaining votes from legislators representing a majority of the state's 163 House districts. That means a minimum of 82 votes. (The 34-member Senate has a similar requirement that final passage requires a minimum of 18 votes.)
Senate supporters are saying little, waiting for the House to sort things out. But the continued delay in the House could make it more difficult for the Senate allies to round up their needed votes before the session ends May 16.
House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, says he believes his side does have the House votes for the ballot measure, which would ask voters to bar employers and unions from requiring all workers in a bargaining unit to pay dues or fees if a majority vote to join a union. Such a requirement is known as a “closed-union shop.”
"It’s just making sure that people are comfortable with moving forward," Jones added.
Republicans want to put the matter on the ballot, rather than pass a closed-shop ban outright because of Gov. Jay Nixon.
Governor reaffirms opposition
Nixon, a Democrat and labor ally, has made clear that he’d veto any "right-to-work" bill. But the General Assembly doesn’t need his approval to put such a proposal on the ballot. Missouri voters rejected a "right-to-work" measure when it was last on the ballot in 1978.
Nixon said in an interview Friday, while in St. Louis on other matters, that House Republicans’ problems rounding up votes is a sign that the "right-to-work" debate is a loser for their side and bad for the state’s economy.
“I think to move the economy forward, having a strong workforce and an organized workforce is beneficial to us all,” Nixon said. "The fact that they've not been able to muster a majority is a good indication that our combined responsibility to focus on helping workers have the skills and tools necessary to move forward is the most important thing they can do."
Behind the scenes, the lobbying by both sides is continuing. Labor supporters -- who dub the measure "right to work for less" -- have been calling legislators urging them to drop the matter.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder – a "right-to-work" backer – has been circulating a poll conducted by his side, which alleges that the public is more amenable to "right to work" than critics contend.
Jones and Diehl have made clear that as soon as they are certain that they have the 82 House votes, the ballot proposal will be swiftly brought up for a floor vote. Diehl added that he also wants “a cushion’’ of a few additional votes in case someone defects during the floor action.
Jones has denied that wavering legislators have been subject to any threats, such as blocks on the legislators' own bills. “We don’t participate in those practices,’’ the speaker said.
Win or lose, Diehl said that right-to-work allies shouldn't lose sight of the historic nature of this session's progress on the issue. This session marks the first time that right-to-work been approved by committee and won first-round approval by the state House, the majority leader said -- even if it is less than the necessary 82 votes.