Interested Idahoans could soon have access to all negotiations for pay, benefits and other perks for government workers.
The House State Affairs Committee voted without dissent Thursday to approve a bill that would require all union negotiations be open to the general public.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Harris, R-Meridian, told the panel the proposal would bring negotiations in line with Idaho law’s intent for greater transparency.
“This seems to break with the spirit of our open meeting laws,” Harris said.
The measure trails 2013’s House Bill 1098, which led the effort to provide great transparency into negotiations. That bill was sponsored by the Idaho Education Association and passed both legislative chambers unanimously.
A number of states, including Washington, allow labor negotiations between organized labor behind closed doors. A number of think tanks across the country have opposed the practice as of late, advocating for more openness for the people who fund government.
“Taxpayers are ultimately responsible for funding these agreements,” wrote the Washington Policy Center’s Jason Mercier in a column last year. “They should be allowed to monitor the negotiation process and to hold government officials accountable for their actions.”
Colorado voters overwhelmingly approved a law to mandate open labor negotiations last November.
A 2013 study by the Goldwater Institute suggested closed-door meetings can lead to higher compensation for government workers. The group also warned the process cuts out the taxpayer and shifts power to monied interests.
“Secrecy in collective bargaining gives unions a double political advantage,” said Goldwater’s Nick Dranias in a prepared statement about the document. “First, they get the government officials to themselves without any competing interest – like taxpayers -- during the bargaining session, and then they get to apply their significant political influence when the deal is finally put up for a public vote.”
Harris told colleagues his measure has the backing of Professional Firefighters of Idaho, the Gem State’s fire union. Other unions, the Republican said, didn’t take a position on the bill or had no opinion.
The measure heads to the House floor.