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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Anti-labor PAC bill surfaces in Senate

By Tim Carpenter
Topeka Rep. Ann Mah confessed Tuesday to standing silent as the House adopted a bill banning unions from deducting money from workers' paychecks for political activities.

The Democrat didn't miss a second chance to voice opposition.

"This bill does two things -- silencing middle class workers and making sure corporate political action committees gain an edge in 2012," Mah said.

She told the Senate Commerce Committee that House Bill 2130 carelessly interjected the Legislature into the workplace. The measure doesn't block all union contributions to labor political action committees, but donors would have to write a separate check.

The legislation endorsed by the Senate committee after a contentious hearing doesn't impose fund-raising constraints on non-union employee groups working in the political arena.

Sen. Susan Wagle, the Wichita Republican who chairs the Senate committee, demanded Mah name a corporation that made payroll deductions for PACs.

"Southwestern Bell," said Mah, who retired from the telecommunications company 10 years ago.

Eric Carter, an attorney representing the Kansas Chamber, said the bill was designed to "avoid the perception of government favoritism or entanglement in partisan politics."

Two large unions subject to the bill are made up of public employees.

"Simply put," Carter said, "the government should not be involved in supporting any organization's political activities regardless of their merit."

Carter said union members -- he didn't identify any by organization or name -- had been coerced into donating to labor PACs.

Generally, political candidates endorsed by the Kansas Chamber's political action committee run counter to those supported by independent labor and public employee PACs.

David Schauner, attorney with the Kansas-National Education Association, said the bill would achieve the opposite of what Carter claimed. KNEA has 22,000 members, who aren't required to donate to the union's PAC.

"I'd ask you to reject this attempt to restrict the political activity of working men and women in Kansas," Schauner said.

Jane Carter, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said the Legislature had no business undermining the capacity of KOSE's 11,000 members to speak as a unified voice on political matters.

"It's the government telling you exactly how to fill out a check," she said. "It's unfair. It's unconstitutional."

The House bill was referred to both the Senate Commerce Committee as well as the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee. It must clear commerce before taken up by the second panel, and Wagle insisted on a vote Tuesday at conclusion of the one-hour hearing.

Pressure to formally endorse the bill triggered caustic exchanges between Wagle and Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, and Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita.

"I think we need to have a fair hearing before we start voting on this stuff," Holland said.

"I'll give you 1 minute," Wagle said.

"I find this bill highly offense to working people," Schodorf said.

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