Having the state of Kansas take over responsibility for workplace safety regulations shouldn’t be a priority in 2017 given the state’s budget constraints.
Legislators, spurred by business groups, are proposing a state-run program that would replace federal oversight by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Advocates of the legislation said a state-run program would provide local control of workplace regulations. Supporters added that a state-run program would be at least as effective as the federal one since the federal government requires it. State-run programs must gain federal approval.
“We know our business better,” Republican state Sen. Julia Lynn, of Olathe, who introduced the bill, told the Associated Press. “We know our mix of businesses better. We know their issues better than somebody in D.C.”
Twenty-eight states already have state-run programs. The Associated General Contractors of Kansas has pushed for such a bill in recent years, arguing that federal workplace regulations have a negative impact on business.
At present, Kansas has one area OSHA office in Wichita that is responsible for all private sector employers in the state. If the bill is approved, the state would submit a plan to the federal government. Kansas would have to fund the program until it gets federal approval, after which the federal government would fund up to 50 percent of the program, according to a state financial estimate.
The AFL-CIO in Kansas opposes the legislation. Bruce Tunnell, lobbyist for the Kansas AFL-CIO, told the Associated Press that Kansas doesn’t have the money to operate a state-run program effectively. He noted that The Government Accountability Office has reported that other states have struggled with funding state-run programs, particularly recruiting and retaining qualified inspectors.
Tunnell’s financial argument is the best argument against the plan. With a budget deficit of $300 million this year and another $500 million in 2018, the state can’t really afford to take on management of a federal program, especially when it isn’t clear that there are significant problems with the program as it currently exists.