DENVER (AP) — Colorado Democrats moved closer to a party showdown over labor rights Wednesday, when the Democratic state House approved a firefighter labor bill that the Democratic governor has threatened to veto.

The bill approved Wednesday evening enhances the rights of professional firefighters to talk about working conditions, even if their communities have voted to ban their use of collective bargaining.

“It is our men and women on the front lines we are trying to give a voice to, right here, right now,” said Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver.

The firefighting measure would affect only a few thousand people, but it’s being carefully watched as a test of labor’s strength with new Democratic majorities in both chambers.

The measure is a watered-down version of a proposal vetoed in 2009 by former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter. The current Democratic governor, Gov. John Hickenlooper, threatened to veto this year’s version, too.

Local government groups argue labor decisions should be left to them.

One more vote is required in the House. The bill has already passed the Senate.

Republicans argued in vain that the bill unfairly steps on the labor rights of cities and counties. They dismissed Democratic arguments that the labor measure is intended to give firefighters more say over working conditions and their own safety.

“This is not a safety bill. This is a union bill, plain and simple,” argued Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction.

Democratic sponsors insisted the bill won’t usurp local decisions about whether firefighters can form unions. Instead, they argued, the measure simply gives firefighters room to negotiate.

“Why would you not allow firefighters who don’t have a voice to have a voice?” asked Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, who sponsored the bill.

By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer (© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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