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SB 5 foes reject offer to talk

Kasich says he's hopeful, but group demands repeal first

COLUMBUS -- Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislative leaders still hope negotiations may take place Friday over Ohio's new law limiting collective bargaining by government employees, but it remains to be seen whether anyone will show up to talk.

We Are Ohio, the coalition of organized labor and Democratic groups seeking repeal of Senate Bill 5, Thursday formally rejected Mr. Kasich's offer to meet to discuss a compromise that he hopes would lead to pulling the referendum from the Nov. 8 ballot.

"We are asking you for a fresh start, and that fresh start must begin with a full repeal of Senate Bill 5," reads a letter sent to Mr. Kasich by AJ Stokes, campaign manager for We Are Ohio.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said We Are Ohio's insistence on repeal first, talk later is "like saying you'll buy a lottery ticket, but that you want to receive your award check first."

"Is the anti-SB 5 campaign also saying that no labor contracts should ever be renewed until after existing ones are first repealed? Of course not," Mr. Nichols said. "We're confident that there are reasonable folks who understand the value of restarting the negotiations that labor unfortunately pulled out from earlier, and we look forward to talking with them on Friday."

Mr. Nichols said the governor, House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina), and Senate President Tom Niehaus (R., New Richmond) will keep their schedules open in hopes some labor faction within We Are Ohio shows up to talk.

Mr. Stokes again insisted that before any such meeting takes place, the Republican legislative leaders must recall the General Assembly -- currently on summer recess into mid-September -- to repeal the law.

Any such vote would have to occur before Aug. 29, the last day that the petition committee behind We Are Ohio could ask Secretary of State Jon Husted to pull Issue 2 from the statewide ballot.

"It is obvious that we have Kasich on the run," Liz Brown, the Ohio Democratic Party's political director, wrote in a fund-raising e-mail Thursday. "He knows that the people of Ohio don't support SB 5. But we can't stop now. We have to continue to call out John Kasich's dirty tricks, and we have to continue to get the word out about SB 5 until Ohioans have the chance to repeal it in November, which they will."

Chris Littleton -- co-founder of the Ohio Liberty Council, the closest thing to a statewide Tea Party organization and a supporter of Senate Bill 5 -- said he believes Mr. Kasich is feeling the pressure from the current political environment that doesn't appear to favor the law.

But if talks should occur, he said one thing must survive.

"The most important thing to us is workplace freedom," he said. "The idea is you shouldn't have to be a member of a union or pay a fair share [fee] to have the job you want and enjoy."

Among its numerous provisions, Senate Bill 5 prohibits strikes by roughly 350,000 government employees, limits what they can negotiate at the table, requires them to pay at least 15 percent of their health-care premiums, and prohibits local governments from picking up any portion of an employee's share of his pension contributions.

A poll of 792 registered voters released Thursday by Public Policy Polling, a self-identified Democratic polling company, suggested that opposition to Senate Bill 5 may be cooling.

Fifty percent say they plan to reject the law at the polls compared to just 39 percent who want to keep it. But opposition to the law has declined from 55 percent seen in the company's poll that was conducted in May.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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