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Eye On Boise

Federal judge overturns anti-union bill

Back in 2003, Republican legislators who were angry at the state’s teacher’s union pushed through the “Voluntary Contributions Act,” outlawing unions from using dues for political activities, requiring them to pay for political activities out of separate, segregated funds, restricting how they can raise those funds, and banning all payroll deductions for union political activities even if authorized by the employee. The measure also set out criminal penalties for violations. The bill, HB 329, passed the House 40-29 and the Senate 19-16, and Gov. Dirk Kempthorne signed it into law.

It was blocked by a temporary restraining order that same summer, and now, a federal judge has declared the law unconstitutional, saying it violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Not only that, the state conceded in court that all but one of the law’s clauses was unconstitutional, and defended only the ban on payroll deductions.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill, in his decision, ruled that the ban was a content-based restriction on speech. “From the expansive universe of conceivable ‘activities,’ the VCA singles out the political for special treatment,” he wrote. “To determine if a payroll deduction runs afoul of the VCA, and warrants criminal sanctions, the content of the activity must be shown to be political and not, say, charitable.”

The law still allowed payroll deductions for other types of activities.

The judge said the law eliminated “the best method for unions to fund political speech. While alternatives exist, they are considerably less effective. With restricted funding, the ability of the unions to engage in political speech will be diminished.”

He did rule in favor of the state in one narrow situation – regarding payroll deduction for state employees for political activities where the state has to pay the cost of the payroll deduction. In that case, the state’s argument that payroll deduction made it partially subsidize the political activity held, the judge said; but if the organization receiving the deduction covered the cost of payroll deduction, it didn’t. He overturned the law entirely with regard to all other employees, including those who work for local government and private employers.

The lawsuit was filed by a group of Idaho unions including the AFL-CIO and unions representing firefighters and teachers.

Eye On Boise

News, happenings and more from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.