Republicans sparked protests from teachers and union officials Tuesday by pushing legislation through a House committee that would bar Indiana schools from automatically deducting union dues from teacher paychecks, an issue that critics thought was off the table this year.
The legislation, which has the support of Gov. Mike Pence, cleared the House Education Committee along party lines.
If the plan makes its way through the GOP-controlled Legislature, it would be another major blow to Indiana's unions. A right-to-work law was approved last year that banned collecting mandatory union fees at private businesses, a year after lawmakers restricted the collective bargaining power of teachers.
"This is being done, in my opinion, to do nothing but stifle their representative voice, as other legislation that has been passed in recent history," said Rick Muir, president of the Indiana Federation of Teachers.
Pence, a Republican, and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce logged their support for the measure Tuesday. Chamber President Kevin Brinegar said a school district or other government unit should not be involved in collecting money which can then be used for political purposes.
Rep. Jeff Thompson, a retired high school chemistry teacher who said he paid union dues by check, slipped the proposal in shortly before a key legislative deadline Tuesday in the House. The Republican from Lizton said deducting union dues from paychecks is equivalent to lawmakers raising political donations using their Statehouse phones.
"Even though it costs the state nothing, it's wrong for me to collect contributions using the Statehouse property," Thompson said. "It's just not the way it should be done, is it?"
But it's unclear how the legislation would fare in the Senate. The chairman of that chamber's education committee, Sen. Dennis Kruse, said he had decided not to consider a similar Senate bill on teacher union dues and wasn't sure whether he would act on the House measure.
"I think we've the teachers pretty hard the last couple of years, and I don't think we need to keep doing things that from their perspective would hurt them," said Kruse, a Republican from Auburn. "I think we should just pause for a little while and let some of these changes we've made be implemented and let things go on for a little bit."
The support marks something of a surprise from Pence, who did not mention the issue during his campaign and left it out of his policy "roadmap." A top policy adviser, however, told the committee that the governor favored the measure.
"Governor Pence supports this bill because it rewards high-performing schools and teachers with more freedom and flexibility, and he does not believe public schools should collect money for private entities," Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault said after the committee vote.
The measure now heads to the full House.