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Lawrence teacher watches as House advances union bill
Deena Burnett was visibly, if not always audibly, disappointed Wednesday after the Kansas House advanced a bill aimed at limiting public employee unions from engaging in political activity.
After the House voted 66-54 to advance HB 2023 to final action, she placed a piece of duct tape over her mouth to demonstrate her belief that teachers and other public employees would be silenced if the bill becomes law.
The bill passed the House on final action Thursday, 68-56, and now heads to the Senate for consideration.
It didn't stay there long, though, because Burnett was really in a mood to talk.
"It discourages me that public school teachers lose their opportunities to free speech," Burnett said.
The bill is being called the "Payroll Protection Act," and it basically says that union dues and contributions that are automatically deducted from members' paychecks may not be used to fund political activities.
Currently, teachers who join the union can have their regular dues deducted from their paychecks, but they have to agree separately to have an additional $20 per year ($1.67 per month) taken out as a contribution to the union's political action committee.
For its part, the Lawrence school board's legislative priority list for 2013 includes no mention of changing collective bargaining laws one way or the other. Superintendent Rick Doll has said the district has always had pretty good relations with the teachers union.
Supporters of the bill say it simply takes government institutions - school districts, state agencies and municipal governments - out of the business of processing financial contributions to political organizations. If public employees want to contribute to PAC's, they say, those employees can write a check, or arrange to have the contributions automatically deducted from their personal bank accounts.
They also say it protects employees from being coerced at the workplace into contributing to union political activities.
But Mark Disetti, lobbyist for the Kansas National Education Association, the statewide parent organization of the Lawrence union, says the bill goes beyond that. Specifically, it prohibits public employee unions from using any of the money they do collect through payroll withholding for any kind of political purpose.
"So when you go to the school board and you say, 'we'd love for you to pass this policy limiting class size in kindergarten,' that's a public policy decision by an elected body, and I believe under this bill that's prohibited if we did it with any money collected though payroll deduction," Disetti said.
Burnett, a language arts teacher at West Middle School, said she was able to attend the House debate on a school day because her position as the local union president allows her to spend half of her time attending to union business.