DENVER (AP) – A labor question that threatens to fracture Colorado Democrats moved closer to a possible collision Monday, when a Democratic House committee voted to move ahead with a measure to expand labor rights for firefighters. The Democratic governor threatened to veto an earlier version of the measure.

The bill would expand labor rights for firefighters even in localities that have voted to bar them from organizing. As introduced, it would have allowed firefighters to collectively bargain even in places where local voters barred the practice.

The bill was watered down a bit Monday. Instead of requiring bargaining, it would require only that local governments “meet and confer” with firefighting groups, not engage in actual bargaining. Firefighters would be banned from talking about salary or benefits, instead confining talk to questions of safety and equipment.

“Give Colorado firefighters a voice,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver.

The measure passed the Democrat-controlled Senate weeks ago in a stronger form. But its prospects remain uncertain. In February, Gov. John Hickenlooper took the rare step of publicly telling lawmakers he’d veto the pending bill.

In a letter, Hickenlooper asked lawmakers to consider alternatives “that respect both the political rights of firefighters and the ability of local governments to make locally accordant decisions regarding collective bargaining.”

His predecessor, Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, vetoed a similar bill in 2009. Ritter was then dogged by firefighter protesters who felt betrayed by the man they’d helped elect.

Firefighters have argued they need stronger bargaining rights to negotiate for things like safety upgrades and technology. However, local governments insist the measure uses a sympathetic group of people – firefighters – to open the door to state control over local employment rules.

“I wish we’d talk about what this is really about. It’s not about safety,” said Rep. Tim Dore, R-Elizabeth, who voted against the revised firefighter measure.

Hickenlooper’s spokesman didn’t immediately say whether the governor would veto the revised version. Williams told colleagues she wasn’t sure.

– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

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