COLUMBUS — Gov. John Kasich said Friday that he anticipates the Legislature will pass a tough bill restricting union activity by public workers in Ohio and that he’ll sign it into law with little fanfare, out of respect for the raw emotions surrounding the bill.
The measure — which still has to go through the GOP-led House — would limit the bargaining rights of roughly 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees. They wouldn’t be able to negotiate health care benefits or certain other working conditions.
“The day we sign it, it’s not going to be some — you know, I don’t anticipate some big deal because this is hard for people,” Kasich told reporters at a separate bill-signing event. “And anything that’s hard, I want to be respectful of other people’s feelings, their thoughts and their emotions.”
Unlike with similar legislation being debated in Wisconsin, Republicans in Ohio managed to move the bill quickly through the state Senate. The bill was narrowly approved Wednesday on a 17-16 vote.
“Glad it passed,” Kasich said, adding that he wasn’t surprised.
Wisconsin’s measure remains in limbo in the GOP-controlled Legislature after the 14 Senate Democrats fled to Illinois two weeks ago to deprive the chamber of a quorum. In Ohio, Republicans hold big enough majorities in both chambers to vote on the bill and pass it even if the Democrats walk out.
“It’s going to go in the House; it’s going to pass there,” Kasich said at the event, where guests included House Speaker William Batchelder.
Under the bill, unionized public workers in Ohio could negotiate wages, hours and certain work conditions — but not health care or pension benefits. The measure would do away with automatic pay raises and base future wage increases on merit. It also would ban strikes by public workers and establish penalties for those who do participate in walkouts.
Batchelder is looking to have at least three weeks of hearings on the bill — which would carry the debate into late March. His spokesman Mike Dittoe said the House leader wants it to be a “deliberative and extensive process.”
The House will likely start reviewing the bill in hearings next week, Dittoe said.
The measure has been pitched as part of Kasich’s remedy for an $8 billion budget gap, though it is not written by the governor. He has said changes to collective bargaining would give power back to state and local government managers to keep costs low.
Kasich said his message to union families is: “What we are doing in this state is designed to make sure that your kids have a future in this state.”
He said it wasn’t an attack on working families, nor “a political operation.”
“I could care less about the politics,” he said. “This is what is part of an overall plan to help fix our state.”
Kasich on Tuesday in fundraising e-mails urged his supporters to call their elected officials and ask them to back the collective bargaining bill. The Ohio Democratic Party has also sent out fundraising e-mails, urging donations from the bill’s opponents.
The legislation has drawn pro-labor protesters and tea party activists to the Statehouse. The crowd on Tuesday topped more than 8,500. The measure has prompted a visit by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland has pledged to lead a ballot repeal if the bill passes.
Kasich said he wasn’t concerned with a possible ballot repeal.
“The Scripture says there’s enough trouble today, don’t worry about tomorrow,” he said. “I ain’t even thinking about some darn referendum in 2000-you know, the end of, whenever, November, whenever it is. Just let me take care of today.”