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Union bill override uncertain

Last modified: 9/8/2011 12:00:00 AM
Both sides in the right-to-work debate say the prospect of a veto override in the House remains uncertain after a series of resignations and special elections in recent months.

House Republican leaders have been unable to muster the two-thirds majority needed to overturn Gov. John Lynch's veto of legislation that would ban unions from collecting fees from non-members. Three special elections since July have delivered three right-to-work opponents - two Democrats and, this week, a Republican - to the House, while two members resigned who had voted against the bill.

House Republican leaders and union officials agreed in interviews that the vote counts appear largely unchanged. Rep. Pete Silva, the majority whip, said the comings and goings of House members this summer are "kind of like a wash" as far as right-to-work is concerned. Republican leaders are "still shy on the vote," he said.

"This is going to be a battle, no doubt about it," Silva said. "It's going to be a very close vote, probably 7 or 8 votes one way or the other."

Deputy Majority Leader Shawn Jasper said he believes there hasn't been much change in how representatives would vote on an override.

"Votes probably are still very close but not quite there," he said.

Each of the previous House votes on right-to-work this session have been at least 10 votes short of the supermajority needed to override a veto. The chamber voted 221-131 in February to pass the legislation. In May, members voted 225-140 to concur with a Senate amendment. The Senate passed the legislation 16-8, exactly the number needed to override a veto.

House Speaker William O'Brien announced the House would override the veto in late May, but he then declined to call the vote, saying he would do so when he was sure it would succeed.

Yesterday, Jasper said he hasn't been counting votes because the Speaker's Office, and not the Majority Office, was handling the right-to-work issue. But Shannon Shutts, a spokeswoman for O'Brien, and Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt said efforts to count and gain votes have been carried out through the Majority Office.

Officials with two unions said they believe lawmakers who voted against right-to-work have remained firm in their opposition. Mark MacKenzie, president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, said he believes people have made up their minds about the bill.

"What we've tried to do is to hang onto what we have," MacKenzie said. "We have not seen a lot of falloff."

Rick Trombly, a lobbyist with the National Education Association, agreed that right-to-work opponents have not seen their support erode. But he and MacKenzie said the outcome still depends on how many lawmakers from each side are in Representatives Hall when O'Brien calls the vote.

"It's always going to be about who shows up," Trombly said. "It's going to be about who's sitting in that hall the day the speaker calls the vote."

The speaker of the House can call a vote to override a veto until the start of the first session day of the following year. Both Jasper and Silva said they doubted O'Brien would call the vote when the House meets next Wednesday to introduce bills. No session days have been scheduled for the purpose of overriding vetoes.

Not a single Democrat voted for the legislation, and House Democratic leader Terie Norelli cast the outcomes of the three special elections this summer as a rejection of right-to-work.

"The results definitely are a statement that the voters are not interested in the Republican leadership's extreme agenda, including the right-to-work-for-less bill," Norelli said. "That was an issue in every one of those elections."

In May, Rep. Jennifer Daler, a Democrat from Temple, won an election to fill the seat of former Republican representative Bob Mead, who resigned his seat to become chief of staff to O'Brien. In August, Democrat Bob Perry won an election to replace former representative Martin Harty, a Republican who resigned his seat without ever voting on right-to-work.

And on Tuesday, Republican Kevin Janvrin, a Seabrook firefighter and right-to-work opponent, won an election to replace Republican former representative Gary Wheaton, who had voted for right-to-work.

The impact of the elections on the right-to-work balance was partially outweighed by the resignations of Democratic Rep. Mike Brunelle of Manchester and Republican Rep. Kenneth Gould of Derry, who both opposed the legislation.

(Karen Langley can be reached at 369-3316 or klangley@cmonitor.com.)


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