Monthly Archives: February 2011

Union workers bring a little Wisconsin cheese in protest at Kansas House chamber

UPDATE –

TOPEKA– Labor supporters have been ejected from the House chamber after bursting out in shouts of “Vote no! Vote no!” on House Bill 2130.

As the 50-60 labor supporters were escorted from the chamber by Capitol security and Highway Patrol officers, House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, said “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a more dismal display of disrespect for the House,” in 27 years as a legislator.

Moments later, House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, responded that in his nine years, “I’m not sure I’ve seen a more dismal piece of legislation.”

Davis’ remark touched off a cheer — audible inside the House chamber — from a hallway outside where union supporters watched on a big-screen monitor after they were thrown out.

The final vote was 75-64.

Numerous Democratic representatives had a statement read into the record charging that Republicans are changing the law to strengthen their own political position for the next election. Most union political money supports Democratic candidates and views.

Several Republicans joined in a statement saying that the purpose of the bill is to protect union workers from having their dues money spent on political causes they might not support.

TOPEKA — It’s like a little bit of Wisconsin right now outside the House chamber at the state Capitol.

About 50 to 60 labor supporters have formed a gantlet at the entrance, cheering their supporters in the Legislature and yelling “Vote no!” at supporters of a bill to reduce union political influence.

The bill, HB 2130, would outlaw a paycheck checkoff that allows workers to have donations to their union’s political action committee deducted directly from their wages.

The bill won preliminary passage Wednesday and is on the calendar for final action today.

The demonstration is inspired — albeit at a much lower level of participation — by the situation in Madison, Wisc., where labor unions and their supporters have packed the Capitol for almost two weeks to fight efforts by that state’s governor to take away benefits and collective-bargaining rights.

The Topeka protesters are peaceful, but at times loud.

At one point, a Highway Patrol officer leaned over the rail overlooking the demonstration and yelled “‘Scuse me folks, no disturbances, this is gonna be your last warning.”

“People’s house!” one of the protesters shouted back.

As the session began, union supporters filed into the House public viewing gallery.

Bruce Tunnell, executive vice president of the Kansas AFL-CIO, told them, “Keep quiet, but when 2130 comes up, do whatever you want.”

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.”

House greenlights the “Dead Red” motorcycle bill

TOPEKA — The Kansas House has passed a bill to allow motorcyclists to ride through red lights that never change.

The measure, called the Dead Read bill, passed in conjunction with a measure to stop cities and counties from tacking extra fines onto seat-belt violations. The state passed a mandatory seat-belt law last year to qualify for federal highway funds, but set the fine at $5 for adult violators.

The two measures were combined into a single bill, House Bill 2192, by the House Transportation Committee, said its chairman, Gary Hayzlett, R-Topeka. A stand-alone version is on the calendar awaiting House action.

The bill was introduced after motorcyclists from the group ABATE — A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments — complained that their cycles lack the necessary mass of metal to trigger sensors in pavements that switch traffic lights at intersections.

That, they said, requires them to risk a ticket or wait indefinitely until a larger vehicle comes along to trip the sensor.

Rep. Owen Donohoe, R-Topeka, tried to amend the bill to strip out the dead red provision, saying it could cause accidents as cycles go through red lights and enter traffic.

“I see no skeletal remains of motorcyclists sitting at red lights that never change,” he said.

John Faber, a lobbyist for ABATE, said he was pleased the bill passed but predicted it might face a rough road in the Senate because it was paired up with the seat-belt measure.

“The Senate’s a little more moderate as far as seat belts go,” Faber said. The Senate could strip out the seat-belt provision or it could kill the bill, he said.

Sedgwick County to put contracts online

Sedgwick County soon will post information about its contracts online at its website, www.sedgwickcounty.org.

Commissioners say the information will help the county be more transparent to the public.

The county also publishes its “checkbook” online as well as other open records such as its budget, who is in jail and minutes of commission meetings.

Parole Board gets no reprieve from House committee

TOPEKA — There was no parole for the Parole Board today at a meeting of the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice.

After a hearing, none of the committee members offered a resolution opposing Gov. Sam Brownback’s order to disband the independent board and replace it with a new Prisoner Review Board, to be staffed by Corrections Department employees.

Brownback directed the change last month in an executive reorganization order, or ERO, which will automatically take effect unless at least one chamber of the Legislature passes a resolution against it within 60 days of when the governor presents it.

House rules say the committee has 30 days to pass such a resolution and send it to the House floor. But it was unclear exactly when that deadline is.

Committee Chairwoman Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, said the ERO came to the committee on Jan. 24, but the House rules weren’t passed until Feb. 7. Colloton said she scheduled today’s hearing as a just-in-case measure to make sure members got a chance if they wanted to propose a resolution.

In the hearing, Parole Board member Patricia Biggs took a softer line than in previous statements. She said the board has adopted “a position of neutrality” and recognizes the ERO as a policy issue for the governor and Legislature.

Biggs

“The members of the Parole Board are committed to facilitating any and all action necessary to accomplish the transition of its powers, duties and functions to the prison review board under the ERO in an manner that is as seamless as possible,” her written testimony read.

Later, she said the testimony wasn’t a surrender, but “a recognition that our place in the pecking order is to be policy followers.”

In the hearing, however, she did question whether Department of Corrections staffers could meet a standard, set by the Supreme Court, that decisions on whether to send alleged parole violators back to prison have to be made by a “neutral and detached hearing body.”

Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts said he thinks his employees could meet that standard.

Roberts

He said he would pick the members but exercise only a “very limited role” after that.

“Our focus is to absolutely handle it just as the parole board does,” he said.

Brownback’s office has said eliminating the Parole Board would save slightly less than $500,000.

But Rep. Tom Moxley, R-Council Grove, questioned Roberts on where he’d find the personnel in his department to staff the board.

“We cut the budget last year by $14 million,” he said. “You still have three people that don’t have anything to do? ‘Cause that’s what you’re saying.”

Replied Roberts: “No sir, Rep. Moxley, our staff is very busy … I would not say we have staff sitting around with nothing to do.”

He said the department is working to streamline internal procedures to free up time for executives to serve on the review board and for prison staff members to provide case support.