Topeka Some supporters conceded Friday that the Kansas Legislature isn't likely to pass a proposal this year to prohibit public employee unions from automatically deducting money from members' paychecks to finance political activities.
The measure has already been approved by the House but has inspired strong opposition from labor organizations, who believe it's designed to lessen their influence. Supporters say it protects workers from having money deducted for activities they don't support.
The bill is before the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, but the panel had its last scheduled meeting of the year Thursday. Lawmakers don't expect to adjourn their annual session until early May, but their deadlines required most committees to finish their work this week.
"Every bill we have in committee will be in committee for consideration next year," said Chairwoman Terrie Huntington, a Fairway Republican.
Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican, said he's heard no talk among Senate leaders about pushing Huntington to hold an extra meeting to deal with the bill yet this year because legislators must concentrate on closing the state's projected $493 million budget shortfall.
Rep. Anthony Brown, a Eudora Republican who is chairman of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee and a strong supporter of the bill, said he'll work with Huntington over the next couple of months to help smooth the way for passage next year.
Derrick Sontag, state director of the anti-tax, small-government group Americans for Prosperity, which backs the bill, said: "They ran out of time, but it was a good discussion to have."
The House approved the bill last month amid heated protests, though its version went further, also imposing the ban on private-sector unions.
Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican, took the unusual step of referring the bill both to Huntington's committee and the Senate Commerce Committee. He said Friday he did so because it touched on subjects covered by both committees.
The Commerce Committee this week rewrote the bill to allow private-sector unions to continue making paycheck deductions, but requiring them to get each member's permission in writing each year. Some backers said the distinction between private-sector and public employee unions is justified because, with public employee groups, government agencies are involved in the deductions as they handle payrolls.
Private-sector unions didn't see the change as much of a concession and still strongly oppose the bill. Public employee groups believe they're being singled out.
"This is a blatant attempt to simply silence opposition to the corporate agenda," said Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the Kansas-National Education Association teachers union. "Workers should have a voice."
The Commerce Committee endorsed the bill Tuesday, holding its hearing and its vote in the same hour to get the measure to the Ethics and Elections Committee more quickly. But Huntington's committee already had a full calendar for its remaining meetings.
Sen. Tom Holland, of Baldwin City, the ranking Democrat on the Commerce Committee and a strong opponent of the bill, said, "That's good news."
Commerce Committee Chairwoman Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, isn't giving up on trying to pass the measure this year. One option is to persuade House and Senate negotiators working on a bill on a related topic to add the proposal to their legislation and bring such a package to the Senate for an up-or-down vote.
But Brown said such an approach "seems to be a far stretch."
"Obviously, I would have liked to have had the bill passed this year, but it still remains alive," he said.