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Full house expected for right to work debate

Union workers from across the state are expected to arrive at the Capitol in buses to oppose the proposal by Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville.

On Friday, Senate officials set up overflow seating to accommodate the expected huge crowd, which could be the largest for a legislative meeting this year.

Republicans want to give Minnesotans the right to decide whether to join unions. But Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, called the proposal to change state the "right to work for less." Republicans like to call their proposal "freedom to work."

"All Minnesotans should have the freedom to choose whether or not to be represented by a union or pay union dues," Thompson said. "This is a fundamental liberty issue."

Unions, as could be expected, see things differently.

"Legislators should be focused on job creation," said Jim Monroe of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees. "'Right to work' won't create a single job. In fact, it will result in job losses. This amendment also means a cut in wages."

Senators previewed the spirited fight that is expected in the coming days and weeks when Republican leaders moved the bill from the jobs committee to the judiciary committee. The decision to move the bill came in a lengthy and partisan debate on the Senate floor.

Bakk said the GOP made the move because of fear Thompson's proposal lacks the vote to pass the jobs committee.

Bakk questioned whether Thompson has supporters willing to donate millions of dollars that would be needed to win a Nov. 6 public vote.

Mistake made

House Speaker Kurt Zellers said Rep. Mary Franson made a mistake when she appeared to compare welfare recipients to animals.

"Sometimes people make mistakes," Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said.

Franson, R-Alexandria, who has offered multiple apologies for the remarks, said her point was that people too often become dependent upon government aid. She said some people need government assistance, but others take advantage of it and remain on it too long.

She avoided about 15 Welfare Rights Committee protesters Thursday when she went to the House Agriculture Committee by a side door, escorted by security officials.

The protesters, chanting slogans urging Franson to quit, included a mother and her baby daughter. That prompted Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, to quip: "That baby's first words will be 'Franson resign.'"

A state band?

Amid all the noise coming from protests and heated debate at the Capitol, a House committee overwhelmingly backed a prettier noise.

The panel approved making the Minnesota State Fire Service Memorial Pipe Band the official state pipe band.

The bill has a long march before becoming law.

Bashing media

Rep. Mark Buesgens took up a favorite legislative sport the other day: bash the media.

The Jordan Republican rose during a House session Thursday to complain that no reporters or photographers attended a news conference he and Rep. Denise Dittrich, DFL-Champlin, held about business-related bills. It was a rare bipartisan news conference, and Buesgens said that the lack of coverage hid the fact that Republicans and Democrats can work together.

The two spent several minutes airing their gripes to fellow lawmakers, ending to a smattering of applause.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.