CONCORD, N.H.—Republican House Speaker William O'Brien ignored a nearly full House on Wednesday and refused to call for a vote on a vetoed bill that bars unions from collecting a share of bargaining and administrative costs from non-members.
O'Brien, who supports the bill, said later that he wanted to give Republicans more time to absorb recent announcements by two New Hampshire business groups that they support the bill. O'Brien said he did not have the two-thirds votes locked up he needed to override the veto, but felt confident he would get them.
"We are moving to a point where we do have the numbers," said O'Brien of Mont Vernon.
When it became apparent O'Brien was not going to call for a vote on the bill, state Rep. Tony Soltani, R-Epsom, questioned why O'Brien was not calling for the vote after he had publicly stated before Wednesday's session that the vote would be held.
"This was in the (House) calendar. Both sides have prepared debates," Soltani said.
O'Brien ruled him out of order and when Soltani pressed him, ordered the sergeant of arms to escort him to his seat.
Labor groups accused O'Brien of playing games with a vote he might have lost.
"These types of games are not helpful. It's a bait-and-switch. You have one of the highest attended House sessions. It's not going to get any fuller," said David Lang of the Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire.
At least 380 representatives in the 400-member chamber were present, according to voting records. Three seats are vacant. O'Brien needed two-thirds of the members voting to pass the bill to the Senate where passage was expected. The House rarely has the attendance rate it had Wednesday.
Lang said the obvious conclusion is O'Brien wants to hold the vote when his opponents are absent, not when the most lawmakers are present.
"That's not what democracy is all about," he said. "Wouldn't we want 100 percent attendance."
O'Brien said he would call for the vote when he feels it is appropriate. He told reporters he would not commit himself to a time or date.
"It's going to be when we have the time to do it," he said.
AFL-CIO President Mark MacKenzie said O'Brien should have called the vote with so many present.
"I don't know how many more arms he's going to twist," he said.
O'Brien had lobbied Republicans hard to win over votes to override Democratic Gov. John Lynch's veto.
Lynch reiterated Wednesday his belief that the bill interferes with private businesses and their employees' negotiations over contracts. He said in the seven years he's been governor he's spoken to hundreds of businesses and the collective bargaining issue has never come up. Lynch said that included conversations with members of the two business groups that said they support the bill.
"(House leaders) ought to stop playing games with how they manage this bill," Lynch said.
If enacted over Lynch's veto, New Hampshire would become the 23rd state with a similar law.