Topeka After two Senate committee meetings on a business-backed bill aimed at curbing political action by state workers’ unions, the committee chairwoman said Wednesday the legislation needs to be studied more before a vote.
“We need to work through some issues,” said Commerce Chairwoman Julia Lynn, R-Olathe.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce has been pushing House Bill 2023, which its representatives said is aimed at preventing the Kansas National Education Association from collecting voluntary paycheck deductions for political purposes.
But opponents of the measure say other language in the bill would essentially prevent public sector unions that represent state and local government employees from political participation.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, supports the measure aimed at paycheck deductions, but said, “What I don’t want is something that weighs down this bill and goes to court and delays this bill.”
Eric Carter, speaking on behalf of the Kansas Chamber, said the bill was constitutional.
“It is well settled law that this is constitutional, period,” Carter said.
But state Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, disagreed. Holland said he was concerned that under the bill, public sector unions and their political action committees “are totally being excluded from participation in the political marketplace.”
The dispute is over language in the bill that says public employee organizations are prohibited from spending any income from dues, fees or periodic payments to engage in political activity. The bill defines political activity as actions meant to influence elections and activities of a partisan or ideological nature.
Holland said that portion of the bill was taken from model legislation prepared by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that Holland called a “corporate bill mill.”
ALEC describes its mission as promoting free markets, limited government, federalism and individual freedom “through a non-partisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector, the federal government and general public.”
Wagle said the allegation that the bill will inhibit free speech “cost us some votes” when the measure was approved last week by the House.
Lynn said HB 2033 needed more vetting, but she didn’t indicate how long that would take.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, who is a teacher in the Shawnee Mission school district, said teachers are pressured to join the KNEA. KNEA officials have denied that allegation.