Topeka — A fight over a bill that would limit unions' political activity is holding up legislative action Thursday on a measure that some legislators say is crucial to the state's unemployment insurance program.
Legislators say they need to pass a bill that pays back a federal government loan made last year to cover benefits for unemployed workers.
But House Republicans, led by state Rep. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, want to add to that measure another bill, which would prohibit unions from using funds deducted from members' paychecks for campaign purposes.
In a testy House-Senate conference committee meeting, state Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said the bill opposed by unions couldn't pass in the Senate.
Brown replied that the House "was prepared to walk away" from the underlying bill that deals with paying off the unemployment insurance loan.
Wagle said that would result in a massive tax increase for businesses and federal penalties.
"We're going to have to find a way solve the family feud," she said. Brown responded, "The ball is in your court. We're waiting on your chamber. Wagle tersely replied, "We're adjourned."
The so-called Paycheck Protection Act that Brown wants was at the center of controversy earlier in the legislative session.
Supporters of the bill say it will protect workers from being forced to contribute to candidates they don't support. Critics of the bill say paycheck deductions for political purposes are voluntary. Democrats say the measure is way for Republicans to hinder union fund-raising.
When the House approved the measure in February, several union members shouted from the public House gallery, urging legislators to vote against the bill. They were escorted out and House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, barred one union official from the gallery for the rest of the session.
Republican House leaders also said several union members said obscenities to female legislators and staff members prior to the vote. But union members vehemently denied the allegation.