Union lobbyist barred from House gallery

TOPEKA -- A lobbyist for the AFL-CIO has been barred from the House gallery for the rest of the session, following a disturbance last week as the House voted on a union-related bill.

House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, said that Bruce Tunnell, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, had been barred from the House gallery and leadership offices for his actions in the disturbance.

Tunnell did not return phone calls. O'Neal told reporters today that after further interviews, he has confirmed at least six instances of "sexually explicit and expletive" comments leveled at Republicans prior to a vote on a controversial union issue.

In addition, O'Neal described a confrontation involving a female member of the House who was physically touched and told, "We know where you live."

The charges were first announced last Friday afternoon in a statement from House Republicans following a vote on House Bill 2130 that restricts unions from deducting money to be used for political activity from members' paychecks.

A number of union members rallied outside the House chambers prior to the vote, boisterously protesting the bill in a gantlet that House members and staff had to pass through.

About 50 union members and lobbyists entered the gallery, where their disruptive actions caused them to be removed.

"Without question, even though there seems to be some question on the editorial page, there were inappropriate, disruptive activity by union members," O'Neal said. "We have confirmed from a number of individuals, both members and non members, that instances of inappropriate conduct (did occur)."

O'Neal said he will not reveal the identity of the targets of the alleged harassment out of respect for their privacy.

"The one that was particularly explicit was outside the Old Supreme Court room where Republicans were having their calendar meeting," O'Neal said.

"One (female) member was actually stopped, physically, they put their hands on her shoulders, turned her around and said 'You will vote no' (on the bill) and 'We know where you live.' She was understandably shaken by that."

O'Neal did clarify that the censure against Tunnell stems only from the disturbance in the House chambers, and is unrelated to any incidents of harassment committed by unidentified protesters.

It was reported that Tunnell told a handful of union members just before entering the chamber "Keep quiet, but when 2130 comes up, do whatever you want."

When the bill came up for a final vote, union members shouted from the balcony before being removed by security. Tunnell was among the group removed.

"We have rules in place, and we expect even though the members of the public are subject to those same rules, they don't know the decorum as well as somebody who has the privilege of wearing a badge," O'Neal said.

O'Neal also told reporters that, according to House doormen, one unnamed lobbyist removed his/her official badge prior to entering the gallery, which is a violation of rules that govern lobbying.

From video of the outburst in the chamber it is difficult to tell if Tunnell is wearing a lobbyist badge, and O'Neal did not specifically say Tunnell was the one to remove his badge.

Tunnell told The Eagle last Friday that he did not remove his badge at the time in question, and he said he did not know of any other lobbyist who did.