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51% oppose bill barring PAC payroll deductions

SHARE 51% oppose bill barring PAC payroll deductions

The Legislature may want to keep government out of collecting political donations from union member paychecks, but a slight majority of Utahns don't.

A Deseret News/KSL-TV survey found 51 percent of Utah adults oppose HB179, which would prohibit members of the Utah Education Association and Utah Public Employees Association from having political-action committee donations deducted from their paychecks. Regular union dues would be unaffected.

Forty-one percent those surveyed by Dan Jones & Associates said they favored the bill; 8 percent didn't know.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

"It shows how out of touch (legislators) are with their constituents," UEA President Phyllis Sorensen said. "They're up here with their own agenda. They're doing this bill as a matter of retribution (for the UEA walkout), and they're going to push it."

But bill sponsor Rep. Chad Bennion, R-Murray, said Sorensen is the one looking out for special interests.

He and Senate Majority Leader Steve Poulton, R-Holladay, say the bill may not be fully understood.

"I just haven't run into many people who feel it's that important for unions to have payroll deductions (for PACs)," said Poulton, who is carrying the bill in the Senate. "Most people who oppose the bill oppose it because they think we're not going to let them deduct union dues. When it's explained to them that . . . it's (related to) political action committees, most support the bill."

The survey of 404 Utah adults was conducted Feb. 5-7.

The bill has passed the House, and was expected to have its first debate before the full Senate late Wednesday. A two similar billspassed the Senate in the late 1990s.

The bill is aimed at keeping government out of the business of collecting political funds for employees, supporters say.

But the UEA sees it as retaliation for its Dec. 5 walkout in protest of Utah's lack of long-term funding plans for schools. Opponents note income-tax returns have check-off boxes for political party donations, but nobody's complaining about that.

Either way, the bill, if passed, could make it harder for unions to collect PAC money and therefore, weaken them. The majority of UEA PAC donations, for instance, come from payroll deductions.

Senate Democrats vehemently oppose the bill, although they don't believe poll results or further lobbying will prevent its passage.

"It's unfortunate this has turned out to be a partisan issue," said Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price. "I'm surprised so many favor it."

The UEA plans to challenge the bill, if it becomes law, in court. The state Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel has cautioned that similar laws have been challenged in other states on First Amendment grounds.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's initial feeling was that the bill was unconstitutional. But last week he said further research showed the bill is defensible.

E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com