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A state Senate bill that would ban certain unions from collecting dues through automatic paycheck deductions passed the House State Government Committee on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 501, co-sponsored by Sen. Scott Wagner,  R-Spring Garden Township, passed along party lines and will now head to the full House for vote.

Previous versions of the bill failed to pass the Senate in 2014 and early 2015, but Wagner said he's confident the House will approve this latest effort.

"The issue is unions have an unfair advantage," Wagner said. "If union members are happy, the unions can send them invoices, and they'll pay their dues."

The bill specifically targets the use of public employers collecting money for political purposes.

Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, who serves on the committee, said she voted in favor of the bill out of concern that public resources may be used for political purposes.

The former Dallastown-area school board member said she has seen the trouble that comes with suspicion of taxpayer money being used for political gain.

"It's just a matter of right or wrong," Phillips-Hill said. "It's not appropriate to use taxpayer resources for political activity."

Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, said there are other issues legislators should be focusing their attention on, including the still-incomplete state budget.

Schreiber pointed out that this bill wouldn't save the state any money and said talk of unethical political activity is a "red herring" that serves as an attempt to weaken unions.

Union members must "opt in" for unions to be able to use their paycheck deductions for political campaign efforts, Schreiber said.

Wagner countered that unions are working in a "gray area" with regard to political activity.

There's potential, as it stands, for unions to use "fair share" contributions from Republican members to support Democratic candidates, he said.

"It's not my intention to weaken unions," Wagner said. "Happy customers pay their bills, so if they're truly serving their members, they should have nothing to worry about."

Schreiber argued that the bill is "union-busting at its core."

"In a time of growing income inequality, any policy that is weakening every day workers' voices is just not good policy," Schreiber said.

Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com.

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