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Senate backs new check on union contracts

CONCORD - New labor contracts with state workers unions would need to be cleared by a powerful legislative committee under a bill approved in the Senate this week.

The bill, Senate Bill 153, would give the Fiscal Committee of the Legislature the power to approve all union contracts with state workers that include any cost items.

The bill was a revised version of legislation filed by Sen. Peter Bragdon, R-Milford.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse, R-Salem, argued that it is needed so that lawmakers understand just how much settlement of a union contract will cost the state.

"Senate Bill 153 has no fiscal impact but helps increase our legislative understanding and overview of cost impacts of such bargaining agreements," Morse said.

Sen. Sylvia Larsen, R-Concord, predicted problems would result from having the Fiscal Committee take up a settled union contract weeks or months after an agreement had been reached and the governor had signed the deal.

"A tumultuous year could find additional turmoil occurring after a state employee contract had been agreed to," Larsen said. "There should not be that additional turmoil of a contract agreed to by state employees and the Legislature."

The Fiscal Committee has been given broad powers in state financial issues, in particular during times when the Legislature is in recess.

The Senate passed the bill on a 13-11 vote.

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