FILE - Florida Sen. Ray Rodrigues

Florida state Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero.

(The Center Square) — A bill requiring additional authorization before Florida public employees, including teachers, firefighters and law enforcement officers, can have union dues deducted from paychecks could be ready for Senate adoption soon after the legislative session begins in March.

Senate Bill 78, filed by Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, was approved Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a 6-4 partisan vote.

SB 78 would require government employers confirm with workers they want union dues taken out of pay before deductions can start. This would be in addition to the existing requirement that unions submit written requests to employees to begin deductions.

The bill requires a public employee who wants join an collective bargaining unit sign a membership authorization form with this acknowledgement:

“I acknowledge and understand Florida is a right to work state and union membership is not required as a condition of employment. I understand union membership and payment of union dues and assessments is voluntary and I may not be discriminated against in any manner if I refuse to join or financially support a union.”

SB 78 has stirred-up the same battles between the same proponents and opponents that HB 1 did in 2020. That measure, also sponsored by Rodrigues, was approved by the House in a 63-52 vote but never arrived on the Senate floor, dying in its Governmental Oversight & Accountability Committee without a hearing.

Rodrigues, elected to the Senate in November, is now the chair of the Senate Governmental Oversight & Accountability Committee. In its first 2021 meeting on Jan. 27, it passed the 2021 version of HB 1 — SB 78 — in a 4-2 vote.

With its Wednesday advance through the Senate Judiciary Committee, SB 78 will be heard Feb. 18 by the Rules Committee, its last stop before reaching the Senate floor once the 60-day legislative session begins March 2.

SB 78 does not have a House companion, noted Sen. Darryl Rouson, R-St. Petersburg, during Wednesday’s hearing, wondering if it is even too extreme for the House, usually the more conservative chamber.

Without one, he said, “this bill is due to die a slow death as it passes through Senate committees.”

Democrats argued there’s no need for SB 78. When asked by Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Ft. Lauderdale, to name complaints that spurred him to file the bill, Rodrigues could not do so.

The bill is "a solution looking for a problem,” Rouson said, noting not one city or county has expressed support for SB 78, which Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, called “borderline intimidation.”

Republicans countered SB 78 makes clear that money belongs to the employee who earns it and the employee, not a labor union, has the final say.

“This is a teacher’s paycheck protection” bill, said Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala. "To me, it's a very simple idea that you make sure (deductions are) legit, instead of someone from the union telling you to take this money out of all these people's paycheck."

As with 2020’s HB 1, Rodrigues’ bill is supported by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, the National Federation of Independent Business and other business groups.

SB 78 is “good governance,” said Florida Chamber lobbyist Chris Emmanuel.

The bill is opposed by the Florida AFL-CIO, the Florida Education Association, the Florida Police Benevolent Association Florida Professional Firefighters and a host of advocacy groups.

Florida's Fraternal Order of Police’s Lisa Hemming said authorizing union deductions is already a three-step process,

"Now we are going to ask them to reaffirm their desire to be a member of a union a fourth time? I think that is a very chilling effect … and I ask you to vote no," Hemming said.