-By Kris Maher and Jack Nicas
November 9, 2011- COLUMBUS, Ohio—Voters on Tuesday defeated by a wide margin a law that would have restricted the powers of unions representing teachers, police officers and other public-sector workers.
The law would have stripped the state's 350,000 public employees of most of their collective-bargaining rights and forced workers to pay at least 15% of their health-care costs. With 97% of precincts reporting, 61% of voters in a referendum voted against the Republican-backed law, known as Senate Bill 5, while 39% supported it
The vote was closely watched beyond Ohio as other states have debated whether to rein in public unions to help governments cut spending on wages and benefits. Unions have faced bruising battles with newly elected Republican majorities in various states this year. In Wisconsin, lawmakers passed a law restricting union rights, but they failed to do so in Indiana.
The Ohio law was passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, earlier this year. But opponents secured enough voter signatures to force a public vote before it could take effect.
"It's clear that the people have spoken," said Mr. Kasich. He said he would continue to work with local governments facing budget challenges but warned there would be "no bailout" because "there's no money."
GOP House Speaker William Batchelder predicted the more palatable elements of the law, such as higher minimum contributions on health insurance and pensions, are likely to be revisited after the dust settles.
Some Republicans said the party overreached in pushing through a bill before gaining broader public consensus. Despite many voters' feelings that some public workers have sweeter deals than those in the private sector, the legislation also was hurt by sympathy for "first responders" such as police officers and fire fighters.