In America, any homely little bill can aspire to grow up to become "landmark legislation." A quick web search shows dozens of grandiose examples aimed at fertilizer, eggs, wood imports, the Great Lakes (shouldn't that be "watermark legislation?"), housekeepers, Earth Day and even flying foxes.

But most "landmarks" are more like the World's Biggest Ball of Twine than the Washington Monument.

Real landmark laws that change society, for better and for worse, are not so common. The Emancipation Proclamation. Women's Suffrage. The income tax.

And Ohio's SB-5.

The shorthand says SB-5 takes away collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. But that is misleading "” like describing the World's Biggest Ball of Twine as a broken shoelace. In Ohio, SB-5 might be the biggest landmark since the Northwest Ordinance (see breakout). It includes education reform, teacher accountability and a whole toolbox of wrenches that supporters say will ratchet back public employee salaries and benefits that have bled state and local governments into bankruptcy.


The Ohio Senate passed SB-5 by one vote at the end of March, but Ohio is still torn up over it. People at the Capitol say they've never seen anything like it.

And that's why its architect, State Sen. Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, was escorted by state troopers at the Capitol while SB-5 was in play. "The most humbling part was during the public hearings," she says, "to have very professional state troopers have to go into the bathroom with me."

As in Wisconsin, Ohio's Capitol was mobbed by teachers and public employees who spent days protesting in Columbus. And, as in Wisconsin, some made it personal and nasty.

"Profane, abusive. It was alarming," says Jones' administrative aide Megan Coyle, who was the firewall for incoming calls. "I don't think we ever got a serious threat, but it got kind of ugly."

Jones says, "People need to have access to the Capitol, but I admit it made me uneasy when I had to wade through large crowds and I was identified." Troopers, who may have personally disagreed with SB-5, protected her, nonetheless.

To public employee and teacher unions, it's apocalypse now. Their protests make it sound like Republicans are dropping napalm on a peaceful village that's trying to raise our children. And they have good reasons to be scared: SB-5 cuts off union power from townships to the Capitol. And that pinches off the feeding tube to Democrats, who rely on union dues. The threat to their union ATM sent Democrats in Wisconsin and Indiana running to hide rather than vote.


To conservatives, libertarians, Tea-Partiers and fiscal realists, SB-5 (and its siblings in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Indiana and elsewhere) finally emancipates taxpayers from bondage to public-employee demands. While 400,000 Ohio residents have lost jobs and income, public employees have been safe in their union bubble, protected from layoffs, still riding the pay-raise escalator.

Ohio's bitter battles over school levies are proof that voters are fed up with tax hikes and service cuts imposed to pay for public employee raises and benefits.

Then-Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Berding, a Republican, testified in Columbus that 83 percent of the city's $340 million general fund goes to labor costs, and 90 percent is locked in by union contracts that raised personnel costs by 18 percent over two years.

Charterite City Councilman Chris Bortz told lawmakers, "Services have been cut to the bone or eliminated completely to provide funds to pay for labor costs that are outpacing revenues."

A few conservatives, such as Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township, and WLW talk-show host Bill Cunningham, sided with unions and scorched Jones for going too far by including police and firefighters. But she says local governments have been handcuffed to all unions, and SB-5 is the key to set them free "” no exceptions. She points out, "Wisconsin exempted police and firefighters, but I didn't see them get any favors for that."

For years, she says, public officials have begged lawmakers to do something about collective bargaining. Jones should know. She served as a staffer and district representative for U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine and U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot before winning a spot on the Ohio House in 2007.

In 2009, she was appointed to fill a vacant seat in the Senate representing District 7, covering all of Warren County and parts of Hamilton County. Although new to the Senate, she has risen quickly, elected Majority Whip and appointed to the Budget Planning and Management Committee. It was there that she noticed structural flaws in Ohio's economy like rusted girders in a failing bridge.

After more than a year of research and visits, she concluded that Ohio was collapsing under the weight of collective bargaining demands. Anyone who looked could see it, but Jones refused to flinch and look the other way.

"School superintendents would tell me they can't get rid of bad teachers, they can't move teachers around and can't make the right layoff decisions because of contracts. County administrators, city councils "” by the dozens "” have had the same complaints about public employees," Jones says.


But now that those same officials have been given a tool to avoid bankruptcy, very few have stepped up to support it like Berding and Bortz. The reason is intimidation. "I was told my presence here would add my name to a list of targeted officials whom union members will campaign against," Bortz testified. "We need solutions, not threats."

The threats are working. While Cincinnati faces nearly $30 million in debt, Council members passed a resolution to oppose SB-5. The same has happened elsewhere in Ohio.


Jones understands that public officials have to live and work with union workers. But she admits she is sometimes more alarmed by the silence of her friends than by the attacks of her enemies. She insists she is able to tune out the personal hits. What makes her emotional is the stubborn resistance to teacher accountability and the unions' refusal to face fiscal reality.

"I ask teachers, ' Do you know who the worst teachers are?' They say, ' Yes.' So do parents. So do administrators. So why can't we get those folks out of the classrooms? They are hurting our kids."

Ironically, while angry teachers shouted outside the Capitol in March, a joint House and Senate committee on education heard some startling testimony. Stanford and Hoover Institution education researcher Eric Hanushek said that better teachers, not more funding, are the key to real education reform.

He reported that Ohio's best students rank about the same as average students in Estonia and Iceland. Eighteen countries outscore Ohio on math and science. Based on "multiple studies of teacher effectiveness," he says, "if we could replace the bottom five percent to eight percent of our teachers with just an average teacher, we could move close to the top of the international rankings."

In one lifetime, that would add $35 to $100 trillion to the U.S. economy, he says.

Instead, Ohio has been handcuffed by union seniority rules that protect bad teachers (and slacking public employees). Often, the best young teachers were first to be laid off. But SB-5 replaces seniority with merit and classroom evaluations. Burned out, incompetent and lazy teachers are no longer fireproof.

"The system was broken," Jones says.

Superintendents and city managers often get the same raises they negotiate for union employees "” a built-in conflict. Contracts go one way "” always higher. "People wonder how is it that my superintendent and teachers got raises, but we had to cut busing, and now they say I have to pass a levy to give them raises," she says. "With step increases and all of the hidden raises, all that can be true. It's bizarre and it's meant to be that way so the public can't understand it."


Although union leaders have made her Public Enemy No. 1, Jones insists she is not anti-union. She says SB-5 is just cold reality. "We are out of money and we have been out of money for a long time now," she says.

Ohio is $8 billion in debt. It's an airliner that's out of fuel, losing altitude. We have a choice: Grab the SB-5 parachute, or crash and burn.

"We don't want to put communities in the position where massive layoffs are the only option. How is that good for police, firefighters and public employees? How is that good for anyone?" Jones asks.

Yet during public hearings, "I asked the witnesses who were opposed, the union leaders, what was the alternative. In every case, they said if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Do nothing. Or they offered to submit ideas to expand collective bargaining rights."

The unions are taking SB-5 to the
ballot in November. "If it is repealed, I guess nobody else will talk about it again. That's the nature of politics," says Jones.

But here's something else most in Ohio may not know: It's already paying off for taxpayers.


Unions are making concessions to comply with SB-5 and avoid labor disputes that would alienate voters. "In my district, Springboro Community schools, we had five failed levies and were facing huge deficits," Jones says. "The union has agreed to pay 15 percent of health care and will get no raises or step increases. The deficit is now a projected surplus. Without SB-5, that never would have happened."

Before SB-5, Springboro's five-year forecast showed a $25.8 million deficit. It now shows a $6.2 million surplus. And that is happening all over Ohio. The best way to sell SB-5 to voters could be the millions saved for taxpayers. The Columbus Dispatch reported savings to Ohio of more than $1 billion "” just from local governments.

But as the battle escalates this fall, voters will be inundated with misinformation, attack ads and horror stories about public employees losing their "rights" to automatic raises and Cadillac benefits. Unions may impose extra dues for a $20 million anti-SB-5 campaign. The battle is bitter because so much is at stake: SB-5 builds a new bridge and shuts down the unions' fast lane to raises and overweight benefits. Spending speed limits are set by taxpayers, not union contracts.