Topeka House Speaker Mike O’Neal on Friday said he was banning a union official from the House gallery over a dispute stemming from last week’s protests.
O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, said Bruce Tunnell, executive vice president of the Kansas AFL-CIO, encouraged workers to be disruptive while the House voted on an anti-union bill. And, O’Neal said, Tunnell removed his lobbyist identification badge during the protest.
“That is not appropriate,” O’Neal said, adding that Tunnell would be prohibited from the public viewing gallery for the rest of the legislative session.
Tunnell denied he removed his ID badge or did anything inappropriate. A video showing Tunnell leaving the House gallery shows him with his badge on. He accused O’Neal of going after labor unions as Republican leaders are doing in several states.
“I guess if he had his way, he would build a moat around the Capitol and only allow people in who agree with him,” Tunnell said.
Democratic legislative leaders also criticized O’Neal’s move.
On Feb. 24, about 50 union members arrived at the Capitol to protest House Bill 2130, which would ban unions from making paycheck deductions for political activities and prohibit public employee unions from endorsing candidates.
When the bill came up for a final vote in the House, several union members in the gallery shouted “vote no.” At that point, about 50 union members were kicked out of the gallery. The bill passed 75-46 with only Republican support.
O’Neal cited an article in the Wichita Eagle that quoted Tunnell as saying to the union supporters, prior to the vote, “Keep quiet, but when 2130 comes up, do whatever you want.”
On Friday, Tunnell said that wasn’t an instruction to yell. He said that meant that after the vote, the workers were free to stay or go home.
House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence said the accusations were being made to divert the public’s attention from what the bill was about.
Tunnell said he comes to the Capitol every day to speak with legislators. He said he would check with his superiors in Washington to see if there is anything that can be done about being banned from the gallery.
For now, he said, if he needs to watch the House, he will watch it on the television outside the House chamber or listen to it online.