Topeka A partisan fight erupted Monday stemming from a state audit that shows Kansas ranks first in the nation in "overpayments" of jobless benefits.
Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said he wants state Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia, to step down as chairwoman of the Legislative Post Audit Committee.
The Post Audit Committee is a bipartisan group of House and Senate members who oversee the audit arm of state government.
Hensley said Mast issued a "partisan attack" against the Kansas Department of Labor, which is headed by Jim Garner, a member of Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' Cabinet.
But Mast said her comments were not partisan. She said she issued a news release because she was concerned about the Labor Department's efforts in correcting the so-called overpayments.
"This is not an attack on the Democrats. I just want to stand for good policy," she said.
The audit showed that Kansas had the highest overpayment rate of any state in the nation from 2003 through 2005.
During 2005, the department reported, the overpayment rate was nearly 45 percent of the $256 million in benefits, while the national average was less than 10 percent.
But state officials said the overpayments were based on technical problems and not related to jobless people getting paid through fraudulent means.
Almost all of the overpayments occurred because unemployed workers didn't register for job services, as required by state law. So they weren't considered eligible for jobless benefits even though they continued to collect them.
But Garner argued the job-services requirement was outdated because most workers were able to find new jobs without using the services.
After the audit's release, Mast and other Republicans issued a statement on letterhead from the Kansas House Republican Caucus saying they were alarmed by the audit's findings and disappointed in the Labor Department's administration.
Hensley, a 31-year legislative veteran, said for Republican lawmakers to issue a news release like that was "about as low a point in the post-audit process that I've seen."
Mast said after the meeting Friday when the audit was reviewed, she went to House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, to seek direction on what she should do to get the word out about the audit because she was concerned about its findings.
He offered the services of his staff to issue the news release, she said.
Noting the audit, she said, "I think my concerns are valid."