- The Maine Wire - https://www.themainewire.com -

Leg Council rejects universal recognition, undermines public employees’ First Amendment rights

The Legislative Council on Wednesday met to vote on nearly 400 bills submitted by lawmakers for consideration in the second session. Despite a number of non-emergencies being admitted into the second session, lawmakers turned down a pair of bills where an emergency case actually exists.

One such bill, LR 2828, sponsored by Rep. Dick Bradstreet of Vassalboro, would have brought state law into compliance with the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME. In Janus, the high court ruled that public employees cannot be compelled to pay dues or fees to a labor union without first affirmatively consenting to pay. The ruling states:

“The First Amendment is violated when money is taken from nonconsenting employees for a public-sector union; employees must choose to support the union before anything is taken from them. Accordingly, neither an agency fee nor any other form of payment to a public-sector union may be deducted from an employee, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”

Currently, Maine law is at odds with the SCOTUS ruling. In the collective bargaining laws governing municipal public employees, state employees, University of Maine System employees and judicial employees, state statute says a public employee can refrain from joining a union, “except that an employee may be required to pay to the organization that is the bargaining agent for the employee a service fee that represents the employee’s pro rata share of those expenditures that are gemaine to the organizations representational activity.”

These four sections of law must be changed because, under Janus, an employee cannot be required to pay fair share fees. Fees, dues and other payments can only be deducted if a worker consents to pay.

The legislative request failed on Wednesday by a 6-4 vote, with Reps. Kathleen Dillingham and Trey Stewart, and Sens. Jeff Timberlake and Dana Dow voting in favor while Reps. Matt Moonen and Ryan Fecteau and Sens. Nate Libby and Eloise Vitelli voted in opposition. House Speaker Sara Gideon and Senate President Troy Jackson also voted against the measure.

LR 2828 should be accepted into the second session and easily passed because conforming to federal labor law is not a partisan issue. State law currently violates the First Amendment rights of public employees, whose rights were also under assault in the first session. Public sector unions and their allies in the Maine Legislature are doing everything they can to prevent public employees from understanding their First Amendment rights under Janus, and by denying this request on Wednesday, are actually undermining constitutional protections for public employees.

In addition, the same lawmakers voted in favor and against LR 2864, sponsored by Rep. John Andrews of Paris, which would establish universal recognition of occupational licensing in Maine. Following in the footsteps of Arizona and Pennsylvania, the law would have allowed the state of Maine to immediately recognize occupational licenses issued to workers by other states if the worker moved to Maine (permanently or temporarily) and wished to practice here.

Under universal recognition, if a worker already holds an occupational license in another state where the individual has been practicing in good standing for at least one year, Maine would recognize that license if the worker moved here. The worker would simply pay the fee to obtain the license and be permitted to practice in Maine.

This is quite different than what workers who move to Maine currently experience. For example, Kim Fichthorn, a registered dental hygienist, moved to Maine in April 2017 to practice in a federally designated dental health shortage area and battled with her licensing board for months in order to practice in Maine.

Fichthorn had to pay more than $260 in fees for applications, license verifications and to produce college transcripts and board exam scores, and her initial application was somehow lost, forcing her to start the process all over again.

She is not alone – a number of Mainers are unable to practice in their desired field because of Maine’s onerous licensing rules.

With much of Maine lacking a sufficient number of primary care, dental and mental health professionals, enacting universal recognition would make it far easier for Maine to address shortages within the health care industry and ensure Mainers have access to the services they need.

Both measures will be appealed for reconsideration at the next meeting of the Legislative Council. The outcome of all bills considered Wednesday by the Legislative Council can be found here.