Kan. House passes bill on public employee unions

Kansas House approves bill banning deductions for public employee unions' political activities

Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- The top Democrat in the Kansas Senate warned Thursday that there would be a "firestorm of protests" if senators follow the state House and approve a measure restricting political fundraising by public employee unions and teachers.

The House gave final approval Thursday on a 68-58 vote, advancing the measure that would bar groups that represent teachers and government workers from automatically deducting money from members' paychecks to finance political activities. It is the first of several proposed bills that are viewed by Democrats and union representatives as eroding the rights of public employees.

Similar legislation cleared the House in 2011 but died in the Senate. The bill is more likely to succeed this year with conservative Republicans who back the measure now in control of both chambers. Gov. Sam Brownback is a GOP conservative, making it likely the measure will become law later this year if it reaches his desk. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said that would be a big mistake.

"If the bill that does away with collective bargaining rights is passed out of the House committee, you are going to see a real firestorm of protests from public unions," Hensley said.

It was unclear when a Senate committee would hold a hearing on whether to send it to the floor.

Supporters contend the measure would prevent employees from being forced to finance political causes they don't support.

Rep. Reid Petty, a freshman Republican from Liberal, said he voted for it because it followed with his "pro-teacher" views stemming from his time on the local school board and his own degree in education. He said the bill would give teachers the right to decide where their money is spent and if they want it to go toward political activities.

"The bill does not keep union members from writing checks and or setting up automatic bank drafts to support a PAC," Petty said. "The bill does not restrict the free speech rights of the union or its members."

Critics said the measure was designed by business groups and their Republican allies to hinder fundraising by public employee groups to lessen their political influence. Rep. John Wilson, a Lawrence Democrat, voted against the bill, explaining that he viewed it as a "thinly veiled political attack" on union members.

Other measures are pending in the House and Senate that would take steps toward limiting the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions, including state workers, teachers and public safety employees such as police and firefighters.

Kansas business groups have long favored what supporters call "paycheck protection" legislation. However, even with large Republican majorities and Brownback as governor in 2011, unions still drew enough support from GOP moderates that they and Democrats could block the measure. The Senate's moderate GOP leaders were toppled in last year's elections.

Eric Stafford of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce caused a stir when the paycheck bill was in committee after he said that the bill was necessary "to get rid of public sector unions."

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