Politics & Government

Bill limiting public workers’ payroll deductions stalls without charity exemption

The Kansas Statehouse (Jan. 22, 2014)
The Kansas Statehouse (Jan. 22, 2014) File photo

A bill that would significantly scale back the collective bargaining power of public-sector unions hit a major snag Tuesday.

One part of HB 2096 would prohibit automatic deductions from public workers’ paychecks for union dues or charitable contributions. The United Way of the Plains has said it would lose $300,000 if that happens.

An amendment Tuesday sought to exempt charities from the bill, but it was rejected by conservative Republicans and Democrats.

The conservatives who voted against the amendment may have granted unions worried about the bill some relief and delivered a legislative win to Democrats, who oppose the overall bill.

The overall bill lost the votes it needed to pass when the amendment was rejected, said Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson.

“I think it probably kills the bill from the feedback we were getting,” he said.

The bill targeted unions on the paycheck deductions originally. But it was amended in committee last week to restrict all deductions other than for taxes or for employees’ benefits.

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, who pushed to widen the restriction, contended that doing so would make the bill fairer and would also take state and local governments out of the banking business. Public employees would be able to contribute to their unions or charities on their own.

The change had sparked backlash from charitable organizations, which stand to lose money without direct contributions from public school teachers, police officers and other public workers.

Exempting charitable deductions

Sen. Garrett Love, R-Montezuma, offered the amendment on the Senate floor Tuesday to allow public employees to still make direct donations to charities from their paychecks.

The measure failed, 13-19. Seven senators passed on voting, and Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, was absent, having attended an event at Wichita State University with Gov. Sam Brownback.

Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, quizzed Love about why he would grant the paycheck deduction privilege for some organizations, such as charities, and not others, such as unions. He called this hypocritical and asked the Senate to consider the message it would send.

Baumgardner emphasized the importance of fairness and also made a case that removing this payroll responsibility from local government would save taxpayers money.

“This is a significant change, so if you’re going to make that change you want it right,” Baumgardner said after the debate, regarding her desire to assure the legislation’s fairness.

She acknowledged that lawmakers had been inundated with e-mails from the United Way in opposition to the bill.

Sen. David Pyle, R-Hiawatha, said the United Way should have more faith in its donors.

After the amendment went down, Bruce called for the overall bill to be passed over until further notice.

Bruce said there were no plans to have another vote on the issue this week and that the bill probably would be sent back to committee.

“We’ve got other fish to fry,” he said.

Limiting unions

The overall bill has been strongly opposed by unions for the state’s police, teachers, firefighters and other public employees.

Mark Desetti, legislative director for the Kansas National Education Association, said if lawmakers exempted charities “it exposes the real motivation behind the bill.”

“Strip the Baumgardner amendment off, then you are clearly saying your intent with the bill is to only go after one viewpoint,” Desetti said.

The bill would limit what items local and state employees could negotiate in their contracts. It also would eliminate current arbitration and mediation processes. The Public Employees Relations Board, which handles disputes between public employees and their employers, would be abolished and its power would be transferred to the state’s secretary of labor.

Separate action affecting teachers

Teachers’ contract negotiations fall under a separate law and while organized labor was relieved to see HB 2096 stall, teachers unions were dealt a blow later Tuesday when Sen. Jeff Melcher, R-Leawood, successfully attached an amendment to another bill, HB 2326, dealing with teacher negotations.

Melcher’s amendment, which passed 20-18, reduces the negotiating power of teachers unions, but also gives school boards more flexibility in granting merit-based raises. Melcher said that this would enable districts to reward the best teachers.

“The unions have been prohibitive of differentiating between one teacher and another as far as performance,” Melcher said. “And if you’re a math or a science teacher and you’re being recruited by the private sector … the district doesn’t have an option to make those upward adjustments to keep their best teachers. We can’t keep losing them.”

Desetti said that Melcher’s amendment “guts collective bargaining” and called it “anti-teacher.”

“It says we can bargain a floor for our salaries and that’s it. And we’re supposed to depend on the school board just making extremely wise decisions and sending all of their money to some teachers and none to others,” he said.

Earlier in the session, the House and Senate each passed bipartisan plans to reform teacher contract negotiations, which received the backing from school boards and teachers unions alike. But their plans differ slightly and neither has passed both chambers.

Melcher’s plan offers a third option that could potentially make it to the governor’s desk if the Senate gives it final approval Wednesday and it gains traction in the House.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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