Politics & Government

Kansas Senate panel advances teacher union election bill

A bill that will require public school teachers to hold votes every three years to retain their unions will head to the Senate floor.

SB 469, which was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday morning, would have originally required elections every year. Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, the committee’s chair, said the change would soften concerns about the bill.

Current law allows for union certification elections if 30 percent of a district’s professional employees sign a petition. Sen. Jeff Melcher, R-Leawood, said many teachers working today weren’t born the last time their districts held these elections.

Supporters say the bill will give teachers more opportunities to select their representation, but opponents say it is meant to curtail free speech.

Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said no teachers had come to speak in favor of the bill. The proponents had been advocacy groups, such as Americans For Prosperity and the Kansas Policy Institute, which have been outspoken in their criticism of unions.

He also criticized that the bill was introduced anonymously and that no member of the committee would claim responsibility.

“Do you have any idea who introduced the bill?” Holland asked. “Does anybody want to step forward?”

Melcher confirmed Thursday afternoon that he introduced the bill.

The bill requires that unions obtain “a majority of all professional employees” in order to keep their certification in a district. That means that even if a union wins a majority of the vote, it may not obtain the majority to keep its certification if some school district employees don’t vote.

Opponents compared this to making a law that would cause a Senate district to lose its representation in the Legislature because not all of the eligible voters turned out to vote in November.

If a union fails to win the needed majority, it would lose its recognition in a school district and the employees would lose their representation. A new union could be recognized if it “is not substantially similar to or affiliated with any professional employees' organization that lost its recognition as the exclusive representative within the immediately preceding 12 months.”

Lynn had announced her plans to move forward with the bill Wednesday, a day before opponents had a chance to speak on it. She said Thursday that her intent had been to be transparent by letting people know that the committee would be working quickly on the bill.

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3