TOPEKA – Saying they want to bring state employees’ work rules more in line with private-sector jobs, state senators on Tuesday approved a bill to eventually phase out civil service protections for most state administrative employees.
The Senate passed HB 2391, which will allow agency heads to decide whether to hire workers as classified employees with traditional civil-service protection or unclassified workers who can be hired and fired at will.
The bill passed 24-16 after a long debate between supporters, who said it would provide more flexibility to state agencies to serve the public, and opponents, who said it would bring “good-ol’-boy” patronage back to state government.
The bill has already received House approval and now goes to Gov. Sam Brownback, whose department chiefs were the primary proponents of the legislation.
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The bill would allow department heads to shift many state jobs from classified positions to unclassified.
Classified jobs carry legal civil-service protection for the workers, including rights to file grievances against a supervisor or challenge disciplinary measures and dismissals.
Unclassified employees are employed at the will of supervisors and can be dismissed anytime with or without cause.
HB 2391 applies to nearly all state administrative departments.
Under the bill, department heads would have the option to make any new hires and rehires unclassified employees, according to a summary of the legislation.
Current employees in classified positions would have the choice to keep that status or become unclassified. They would automatically become unclassified employees if they voluntarily transfer or accept a promotion or demotion to an unclassified position.
Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, carried the bill on the floor. She said state and private-sector experts had worked hard “to create policy that really lines up with 21st-century expectations on the part of many in the workforce.”
She said it’s better for department managers, who won’t miss out on hiring good employees because the process takes too long.
And, she said, it will be good for many workers who will now be able to cross-train and perform duties outside the narrow confines of a classified-employee job description.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, countered that he thinks the bill strips employees of their rights to due process and protection from discrimination in hiring and firing and will inject partisan politics into the state workforce.
“My fellow senators, this is bad public policy,” he said. “This is a retreat from the protections that civil servants deserve.”
Senate Democrats tried to water down the bill with proposed amendments to give employees more of a say in the changes and prohibit discrimination based on gender or gender identification.
All the amendments were rejected.
Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.