A defeat of Ohio's controversial new collective bargaining law in the Nov. 8 referendum may not be the final death blow to parts of the bill.
Political observers expect the Republican-controlled state legislature to try to repass parts of the law when lawmakers reconvene in January. In addition to the ban on public employees being able to collectively bargain for benefits, the bill includes requirements for public employees to pay in a certain percentage for health and pension benefits -- issues that have proven popular with Buckeye State voters. Recent polls have shown the entire law is likely to be defeated in the referendum.
"What will the response be of the Republican legislature if S.B. 5 is defeated?" asked Herb Asher, a political science professor at Ohio State University, referring to Issue 2 by the bill name, Senate Bill 5.
Asher and John Green, the director of the Bliss Institute of Politics at the University of Akron, agreed it is likely that the legislature will consider enacting parts of a defeated law in new laws. These include the provision requiring a 15-percent pay-in for health benefits and a 10-percent pay-in for pension costs for local government employees.
"These provisions would be the ones that would save local governments some money," Asher said.
S.B. 5 was signed into law by Gov. John Kasich (R) earlier this year and became an immediate target for elimination by labor unions in the state. Unions used a provision in the Ohio constitution to force a referendum to overturn the law, gathering over a million petition signatures to get the Issue 2 measure on the ballot. The race has heated up, with millions of dollars spent on both sides.
A Quinnipiac University poll released last week showed 57 percent of voters likely to vote to repeal the law. The same poll indicated that voters did favor the health and pension contribution portions of the bill, along with allowing for merit-based increases for public employee pay. The poll said that 60 percent support the health care pay-in, while 57 percent support the pension pay-in and 49-percent support merit pay.
The possibility of a new version of parts of S.B. 5 worry some in the Ohio labor movement, with the hope that a big win on Nov. 8 will stop Republicans from enacting provisions covered in the bill.
"They have such a majority in the legislature," Harriet Applegate, executive secretary of the North Shore AFL-CIO in Cleveland, said of the Republicans. "They way we are trying to address that is to win big. That would take the wind out of the sails."
Green said he expected the margin of victory to be the key to the final plan in the event that Issue 2 is defeated. He said that a large margin of defeat could prevent Republicans from enacting any parts of the bill or being selective in which measures they do enact. Under Ohio law, voters have to either accept or reject S.B. 5 as a whole and cannot cherry pick portions they favor.
At the same time, Green said that Republicans could have a new sense of optimism in the event that the polls prove wrong and voters uphold S.B. 5.
"If Issue 2 holds they will be emboldened to try other issues," he said.
Kasich’s spokesman, Rob Nichols, said that the governor is not focused on the future of S.B. 5, but rather on the upcoming vote. Kasich has been traveling the state campaigning for the bill, which has become the defining issue of his first year in office.
"We're not talking about that -- what we are talking about is winning the election," Nichols said.