Hugh McQuaid photo
Rep. Bruce “Zeke” Zalaski, D-Southington, the proponent of the bill (Hugh McQuaid photo)

A bill that prohibits employers from requiring their workers to attend meetings concerning views on politics and religion passed the House 78 to 65 after 11 hours of debate—an hour longer than the debate on the state budget.

Rep. Bruce “Zeke” Zalaski, D-Southington, said the measure will protect employees from discipline should they decide not to attend such a meeting where politics and religion are discussed.

“Nothing in this proposed legislation limits what an employer can say or who they can say it to,” Zalaski said.

But Republicans maintained it sends the wrong message to businesses in the state and offered up a number of hypothetical scenarios and amendments to prove their point.

Rep. John Rigby, R-Winsted, said that all of the testimony offered at the public hearing proved that businesses and organizations throughout the state were against the legislation.

The message the legislation sends to the business community in the state was a source of concern for many lawmakers, who saw it as another bill that would make Connecticut less attractive to businesses looking to relocate.

“What do you think this says? It says take your business elsewhere,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said. “We can’t say we are open to business and continue to do this.”

The so-called captive audience bill has been a perennial offering from the legislature’s Democratic majority and is supported by various labor unions in the state. Union leadership said it’s used as a tool by some employers to intimidate and threaten workers considering joining a union.

Eric Bailey, spokesman for AFT-CT said late Wednesday that the tactic was employed by William H. Backus Hospital in Norwich, to discourage nurses from voting to unionize. But this time those tactics didn’t work. The group of nurses voted 210-175 to support a union.

“Having a contract will give us a voice in the hospital so that we can be stronger advocates for our patients,” said Lisa Currier, an registered nurse in the operating room. “That’s why I voted in favor of a union.”

The election Wednesday was administered by the National Labor Relations Board. It means the nurses can now start negotiating their first contract with the hospital.

Cafero opined that Democrats were finally bringing the bill to the floor Wednesday because they have a governor who is likely to sign it.

But that didn’t explain the length of the debate over a bill that’s not considered a major public policy issue.

House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, admitted sometime Thursday morning that the debate had gone to an “extreme.”

“It’s obvious every question has been asked,” Sharkey said.

Sources say there was a misunderstanding between Cafero and Zalaski. Republicans thought the bill was never expected to come up for a vote. However, Democrats maintained no such agreement offered and the misunderstanding lent itself to the long Republican filibuster.

Plans to debate in-state tuition for undocumented students was next on the agenda, but at the last minute Democrats decided against forcing what was likely going to be an even longer debate. They adjourned around 1 a.m. Thursday morning amongst chant of “more bills.”