Ohio Republicans Backpedal on Union Bill

Five months ago, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and Republican lawmakers pushed through Senate Bill 5, restricting public employees' collective bargaining rights, banning them from striking and requiring them to pay a larger share of their health care costs and pension contributions. But now Kasich and GOP legislative leaders are asking union officials to sit down and talk about changing the measure. 
"We have a fleeting opportunity in Ohio to take the higher road. We are prepared to move forward immediately with legislative action to implement any agreement on changes we are able to reach together," Kasich, House Speaker William Batchelder and Senate President Tom Niehaus wrote in a letter to public employee union leaders last week. 
The Republicans said the reason for their change of heart is to avoid a divisive fight over Issue 2, a referendum on SB 5 scheduled for the state's Nov. 8 ballot. 
"I hate what is about to happen here," said Batchelder. "There's going to be the damndest mess anybody ever saw in terms of relationships between government and employees." 
Jay McDonald, president of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio said, "Absolutely, we are willing to go to the table, but we are asking that they repeal the bill first." 
Melissa Fazekas, spokeswoman for We Are Ohio, the coalition of labor groups that collected nearly 1.3 million signatures to put SB 5 up for a referendum vote, was a little less diplomatic. 
"They need to come back and repeal the entire bill. Bottom line," she said. "...Unless they come back and repeal the entire bill, there is no conversation." 
One reason for her inflexibility - and the opposite tendency among Republicans - may be a Quinnipiac University poll released last month that showed 56 percent of Ohio voters favor the repeal of SB 5 while only 32 percent support it. 
Kasich actually doesn't seem too optimistic about reaching a deal, although he sees value in trying. 
"Just because we talk doesn't mean we work it all out," he said at a press conference. "But I think the public would like us to sit down and all talk. And, we're willing to do this. Plain and simple. We'll see where this goes." 
The author of SB 5, Sen. Shannon Jones (R), appears to share that perspective. 
"I think Issue 2 is going to pass but that doesn't mean you can't continue to make overtures to get people to talk," she said. (DAYTON DAILY NEWS) 

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