Daily Archives: Feb. 23, 2011

House approves bill making it harder for unions to collect political donations

TOPEKA — Despite protest that it unjustly targets unions and infringes on union members’ freedoms, the House today passed a bill that would restrict unions from using deductions from members’ paychecks to fund political activities.

Currently, union members can sign off on the use of deductions from their paychecks for political purposes. House Bill 2130 would end that practice, forcing unions to seek funds for political activities through separate donations.

Supporters of the bill claim it will remove government from the process of funding political campaigns and protect workers from seeing their dues used in ways they do not support.

“When you are not in the majority in your union, you may feel uncomfortable with where those dues are going,” said Anthony Brown, R-Eudora. “Under the current system, they can’t self-direct those dollars.”

Some House Democrats objected that the bill would disenfranchise workers, ignores the democratic process employed by unions, and promotes government intrusion in private affairs.

Furthermore, it assumes Kansas don’t know what they agreed to have deducted from their paycheck, according to one Wichita lawmaker.

“I have a problem with you saying union members are not smart enough to know where their money is going,” protested Rep. Judith Loganbill, D-Wichita.

The bill will now go to the Senate, where representatives of labor interests plan to carry on the fight, claiming the constitutionality of the bill has yet to be sufficiently addressed.

“This is not a union issue, it’s an attack on our freedom of speech,” said Bruce Tunnell, Executive Vice President of the Kansas AFL-CIO. “When you start taking away my freedoms, where is it going to stop?”

Brown said he doesn’t think there’s a constitutional issue involved.

“There are still a whole host of ways members can make their donations to political action without having it done without their consent,” he said. “This bill only affects deductions from paychecks, not their overall freedom to donate.”

– Todd Fertig, Eagle Topeka Bureau

Property value notices to go out next week

About 52 percent of homes in Sedgwick County will see no change in property values when notices go out next week, appraiser Mike Borchard told commissioners this morning.

About 23 percent of homes will see an increase in value — typically of about 3 percent — and 25 percent will see a decrease in value — also typically about 3 percent.

Values won’t change for 71 percent of commercial properties. Values will go up for about 15 percent of commercial properties and down in about 14 percent of commercial properties. Those changes will be about 5 percent up or down, Borchard said.

The county will mail out 219,538 property value notices next week. Informal hearings for those who disagree with the value of their property begin March 16. The deadline to appeal a valuation is April 1.

Commissioners pass downtown plan

After about two hours of discussion, Sedgwick County commissioners have approved the downtown master plan.

Commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau voted against it, saying that their vote was not against downtown revitalization but that they wanted assurances that eminent domain would be not be used and that the county was not binding itself to financial support of downtown.

Commissioners Tim Norton, Jim Skelton and Dave Unruh voted for the plan.

Read more about the discussion in Thursday’s Eagle.

Senate votes to skip presidential primary again

TOPEKA — The state Senate today voted to cancel next year’s scheduled Kansas presidential primaries.

Senate Bill 128 crosses the year 2012 out of a state law that says when primaries should be held to choose presidential nominees.

The next possible primary would be 2016, a 24-year gap since Kansans last had an official election to express support for national candidates and apportion delegates to the Democratic and Republican national conventions.

Most years, the selections of national candidates are essentially over before Kansas would vote, and the decision on convention delegates falls to a caucus of a relatively small core of party activists and insiders.

However, in 2008, competitive races drew large numbers to party caucuses across the state.

Democrats especially overcrowded local caucus meetings, spurred primarily by enthusiasm for their eventual nominee, Barack Obama.

GOP caucus turnout was also higher than usual as Kansas Republicans turned out to support former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s bid for the presidency, although at the time, he was substantially trailing the eventual nominee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

President Obama is expected to easily win Democratic renomination for 2012, but Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, said he voted to hold a primary anyway to make it more convenient for Republicans to participate in selecting their nominee.

He also said that as a senator and a candidate for Secretary of State, he had promised to support primaries and the right to vote.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach had asked the Legislature to either skip the 2012 primary or approve $1.3 million in state money to pay for it.

In another election-related measure, the Senate also approved a bill to require state candidates to follow federal example and add their name and the phrase “I approve this message” to their television and radio spots.

Senate Bill 145′s chief proponent, Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, said it won’t put an end to anonymous attack ads in campaigns.

But she said it would make it easier for voters to tell which ads come from the candidates’ own campaigns and which come from outside groups.

She said research shows that voters tend to give more credence to ads authorized by the candidates than they do third-party advertising.

The bill also would not affect so-called “issue ads” by outside groups that attack or praise candidates without explicitly saying to vote for or against them, Schmidt said.

Discussion about downtown plan gets heated

During a discussion about a master plan for downtown Wichita at this morning’s Sedgwick County commission meeting, talk got off track about whether the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation should be more transparent.

The group is a key proponent of the downtown master plan. When a speaker in the audience challenged the group to be more transparent, its former chairman, Larry Weber, said the district attorney’s office ruled that the group is private and doesn’t fall under the Kansas Open Records Act. Weber said the group wasn’t obligated to respond to requests for information such as salaries and “all that crap.”

County commissioner Richard Ranzau noted that the group gets much of its money from public sources such as the city and county and urged it to be more open. At that point, Weber said he would be happy to sit down with Ranzau and tell him how much president Jeff Fluhr earns in his job. Ranzau said he didn’t want the information; the public wants it. Ranzau said there’s a difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the Kansas Open Records Act.

Weber is property manager for the Garvey Center. He still serves on the WDDC board.

County commissioners consider downtown plan

Sedgwick County commissioners are considering the downtown plan today.

A few people have spoken out against the plan, saying the county needs to focus on the county, not downtown Wichita.

Those speakers included former commissioner Kelly Parks, who urged board members to only receive and file the plan, not endorse it.

“This is a private development concern and a city of Wichita concern,” Parks said.

Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, spoke out in favor of the plan “as a guiding principle in the days ahead.”