Topeka Representatives of state workers on Monday said a bill dismantling the classified employment system would mean jobs would be based on politics instead of merit.
"Every agency could turn over with a turnover of the administration," said Rebecca Proctor, with the American Federation of Teachers-Kansas. "If you are on the wrong side politically, you could lose your job."
No one testified in favor of House Bill 2384 during a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee.
That prompted concern by some of the committee members about why the committee was considering the legislation.
"We really have a ghost," said state Rep. Jerry Henry, D-Atchison.
Appropriations Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said he and several others proposed the bill because he said the conversation needs to start on phasing out the classified system. Rhoades said eliminating the classified system would make it easier to reward high-performing employees.
He said the bill was patterned after one adopted in Arizona.
But Proctor said transforming classified employees to unclassified status would remove long-standing civil service protections and then all state employment could be based on political affiliation.
She also warned that the state could jeopardize federal funds for Medicaid, Food Stamps and other major programs aimed at helping those with disabilities because the federal government requires the maintenance of a merit-based employment system to ensure that taxpayer funds are not used in a political way.
But Rhoades disagreed, saying, "We would make sure that everything federally funded was not affected. We are not going to have language in the bill that would jeopardize federal dollars."
Several committee members noted that Kansas University got rid of its classified employee system in 2005 but Proctor said that was decided by employees in a vote and that the switch required the establishment of a civil service-type board to handle appeals of job dismissals or disciplinary actions.
HB 2384 would make all state attorneys, supervisors and information technology workers unclassified. After July 1, all new hires, or any current state employee who is either transferred, demoted or promoted, or is promoted into a different position would be unclassified. The bill would exempt employees of public safety agencies from the changes.
Mike Marvin, executive director with the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said the current classified system also protects the interests of the state by keeping experienced workers at crucial jobs.
"It keeps a continuity in the agencies so when you change management you don't change all your employees at the same time," he said.