Democrats pledge to help workers

? Democrats in the state Legislature on Thursday pledged to push an agenda that they said would help Kansas workers and their families during tough economic times.

“We will eventually recover from this recession, but if we don’t protect our hardworking Kansas families now, the long-term impact of this economic downturn will be much more far-reaching and have much more damaging consequences to the future of our state,” said House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence.

Democrats are in the minority in the Kansas Legislature, outnumbered by Republicans in the Senate 31-9 and in the House 76-49.

The proposals put forward by the House and Senate Democrats include:

• Protecting public school funding.

• Requiring state and local governments and contractors to use the government database E-Verify to check on the citizenship status of employees.

State Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin, said, “When irresponsible employers hire undocumented workers as a means of avoiding decent wages, benefits and taxes, we have got to hold them accountable.”

• Providing a cost-of-living increase for state retirees.

• Increasing the $2.65 per hour state minimum wage, one of the lowest in the nation, to the federal minimum wage. Government estimates say 19,000 Kansans are earning the state minimum wage.

• Increasing workers’ compensation benefits, which are among the lowest in the nation.

• Reinstating the prevailing wage law.

Lawmakers are facing a $186 million budget deficit in the current fiscal year, and a possible $1 billion deficit in the next.

Democrats said because of the recession, the Legislature should try to help workers and their families.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said layoffs and job losses are hurting Kansas workers. “During this difficult economic time, working Kansas families have borne the brunt of this heavy burden,” Hensley said.

The Democrats also said they supported a proposed school funding plan by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat. Sebelius’ plan would keep total school funding flat, but Republicans are seeking across-the-board cuts.

Recent increases in school funding have produced better test scores and smarter students, the Democrats said.

“Abandoning our commitment now would be terribly punitive to our economic future,” said state Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka.