Topeka An anti-union bill was approved Tuesday by a divided legislative committee whose chairwoman rushed through a public hearing to advance the measure.
"We have to work this bill today," state Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said as she told Senate Commerce Committee members several times to hurry up with their questions to those who testified for and against the bill.
One state senator, Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, said the bill was "highly offensive to working people." Schodorf moved to table the bill, but that motion failed.
After the committee meeting, Schodorf pointedly chided lobbyists for the Kansas Chamber, which is pushing for passage of the bill, telling the lobbyists, "This is a waste of time."
She said the Kansas Chamber and Legislature should be working together to create jobs instead of fighting against unions that represent teachers, firefighters and police.
House Bill 2130 would ban public employee unions from endorsing candidates and prohibit unions from getting voluntary dues from its members for political activities. It was approved in the House with only Republican support and prompted a demonstration by union members that led to House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, to ban one union official from the public House gallery.
The measure is backed by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity, both organizations aligned with the Koch brothers who lead the Wichita-based Koch Industries.
State Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, said the bill "silences middle class workers and makes sure corporate PACs gain an edge in 2012."
Eric Carter, speaking on behalf of the Kansas Chamber, said the proposal removes government from the political process. "Government intertwined with political activity -- that isn't something voters want to see," he said.
The Commerce Committee approved an amendment offered by Carter that he said would allow private unions to deduct from members' paychecks for political activities, but require the union to annually ask permission from the member to continue the deduction.
The bill has been referred to two committees in the Senate, which Wagle said was the reason she wanted to get it out quickly of her committee. The Ethics and Elections Committee is also considering the legislation.
At one point during the meeting, state Sen. Tom Holland of Baldwin City, who is the ranking Democrat on the committee, was asking questions and Wagle told him to hurry up. Holland responded, "I think we need to have a fair hearing on the issues before we vote on this."