Topeka With only Republican support, the Kansas Senate on Thursday approved a bill prohibiting public employee unions from deducting money from members' paychecks to pay for political activities.
Supporters of the business-backed bill said it would remove the state from being involved with paycheck deductions for political purposes.
"We are withdrawing the government from any activity involved in these payroll deductions," state Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe.
Opponents of the bill said it was a thinly disguised effort by conservative Republicans to throttle the Kansas National Education Association and Kansas Organization of State Employees, whose political action committees support Democrats and moderate Republicans.
"The Legislature has crossed the line," said Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City. "That is flat-out wrong. That is tyranny," he said.
"This is an effort to try to make it, if not impossible, then extremely difficult for our public employees in Kansas to participate in the political process," said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka, who is a teacher and member of the KNEA.
But Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, who also is a teacher, said teachers can write personal checks or set up private accounts to set aside funds for PACs.
"I have no problem expressing my political opinion. I write a check. It's not hard to do. This doesn't take anyone's voice away," Smith said.
The bill was adopted 24-16. Only Republicans voted for it; the opposition included all eight Democrats and eight Republicans.
Lynn and Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, said the state shouldn't expend money to make these transactions. But Hensley said that under the union contracts, the unions reimburse the state for each transaction, and that the state is probably making money off the deal.
During hearings on the bill, Eric Stafford, a lobbyist for the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, told a House committee, "I need this bill passed so we can get rid of public sector unions." He later said that wasn't what he meant and that he said that when he got frustrated when pressed by a legislator on what the Chamber wanted.
A similar bill was approved by the House, but Senate leaders combined two business-backed bills into one, so the measure will go back to the House for consideration.
The other bill allows an employer to withhold wages for several reasons, including overpayment or loan repayment.