Congress tilts to gov't union monopolists

Here in San Diego, when it comes to federalism, or protecting states' rights from the meddling of the federal government, it seems we often take one step forward, only to take two steps back.

One step forward was the passage of a bill by Assemblyman Martin Garrick, R-Carlsbad, to permit groups of like-minded individuals the freedom to communicate with their members, preserving free speech rather than restricting it. It's a great step in allowing people who care so much about an issue that they are willing to volunteer their money to back an idea, the freedom to do so without locals meddling.

But it seems we may soon be taking two steps back: Last week, I learned of Congressman Brian Bilbray's support for House Resolution 980, a stealth effort to prevent some of our most talented and skilled firefighters from stepping up to do what they have a burning passion for -- fighting fires. It is abundantly clear that the same trampling of one's freedom that comes from putting limitations on where one can spend their money is the same as where one is permitted to spend their free time.

There's no difference between a teacher who cares so passionately about education that she lobbies to oppose No Child Left Behind or tutor a student in her free time and a firefighter who is willing to wake up at 4 a.m. to help stamp out a fire in his neighborhood on his night off.

If passed by the Senate, HR 980 would mandate unionization of EMTs, firefighters and policemen across America. States and localities who choose not to recognize public sector unions would face a federal override, with Washington setting labor rules. There's a provision in the bill that opens the door for punishing professional firefighters from "volunteering" with "rival" units. A volunteer unit could be a "rival" to the city or county (unionized) unit.

Two weeks ago, Palomar Mountain was saved by 24 members of the Palomar Mountain Volunteer Fire Department who forced back the flames, preventing most of the mountain's 300 homes from being lost to the Poomacha fire. They would be considered a "rival" unit to the Escondido Fire Department under the current version of HR 980.

The volunteer fire service is one of the most valuable resources a community can have, according to emergency service personnel. It is those men and women who go into harm's way to save the lives and properties of countless people each year. According to the National Fire Protection Association, 72 percent of U.S. firefighters are volunteers. Most communities with less than 25,000 residents are protected by volunteer fire departments, anchored by a core of professional firefighters who volunteer during their free time.

Discouraging a highly skilled group of professionals who care about their communities, and have the talent to prevent a vast damage in any way from volunteering their expertise, because it may jeopardize their job, is simply repulsive to this taxpayer.

Coercion and economic incentives have no place within the ranks of selfless volunteers, whether they be doctors, treating a neighbor after hours, an attorney doing a bit of pro bono work or a firefighter who puts out a neighbors Christmas tree next month.

This is a deeply flawed bill that will lead to many communities being less safe than they are now.


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