TOPEKA — Public unions wouldn’t be able to automatically deduct money from members’ paychecks for political action under a bill advanced by a House panel Thursday.
Approval of the bill punctuated roughly two hours of tense debate Wednesday and Thursday that strayed into discussion of whether the proposed ban on paycheck deduction for political action is a step in a larger effort to eliminate public unions.
On Wednesday, a Chamber of Commerce lobbyist said he hoped to eliminate all public unions, drawing outrage from many Democrats.
The debate Thursday was tame, by comparison. But it touched raw nerves for lawmakers.
Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City, said the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut is spurring legislation, and groups like the National Rifle Association will be out advocating while Kansas is trying to make it more difficult for teachers to have a united voice.
“They should have that right,” he said. “They are on the front line.”
Rep. Annie Tietze, D-Topeka, said she was appalled “that this committee would target a specific group of Kansans to deprive them of their rights. I wonder who’s next.”
Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, said rhetoric about the bill has gotten out of control.
Unions and opponents of the bill say it would strip them of rights, he said, noting union members could still write as many checks as they wanted to fund political action.
What the bill really does, Brunk said, is take government out of an accounting function by stopping it from docking paychecks for political purposes.
Public unions, such as those who work in support of school teachers and other state workers, often have members voluntarily sign up to have a portion of their paycheck docked to help fund political efforts that back certain candidates, bond issues or other ballot questions.
Under the proposal now headed to the full House, unions would have to ask members to write them checks to fund political advocacy efforts or set up agreements with members to deduct money from their bank accounts.
Conservative business groups, including the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, advocated for the bill.
The plan drew strong opposition from unions, including the Kansas National Education Association, which helped support moderate Republican and Democratic candidates last fall.