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House Advances Bill To Reduce Civil Service Protections

Stephen Koranda

Two bills that could limit public employee protections advanced in the Kansas Legislature on Tuesday while a strict reform to public employee collective bargaining stalled in the Senate.

The House voted 71-53 to give first-round approval to a bill that would allow state agencies to remove civil service protections for new workers and employees changing positions.

Civil service employees have typically enjoyed greater job security and benefits than political appointees or private-sector workers. Supporters of the bill said that such employees would only lose those protections by voluntarily changing positions within the government under the bill.

But Democratic Rep. John Carmichael of Wichita said the bill aimed to gradually reduce the number of protected jobs in government and would allow agencies to force workers into positions without civil service benefits.

"There is nothing voluntary about when you want a promotion or when you want a raise being required to sign away your civil service rights and protections. That's not voluntary, that's coercion," Carmichael said.

Carmichael also proposed an amendment to the bill that would have reinstated protections that prevented people from being fired or refused employment based on their sexual orientation, which were removed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback in an executive order in February. But the body voted 81-42 that the proposal was not relevant to the bill.

Across the rotunda, the Senate advanced a proposal to automatically terminate all teacher salaries at the end of their current term and require the sides to re-negotiate them from scratch.

Republican Sen. Jeff Melcher from Leawood inserted the measure into a bill narrowing collective bargaining terms between teachers unions and school boards. Melcher said it would make it easier for school boards to fire underperforming teachers and give them the flexibility to reward better teachers.

Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly from Topeka said the bill adds to a list of conservative education reforms before the Legislature that, if passed, would make working as a teacher in the state unattractive.

"If their intent is to drive good people out of our public schools so our public schools fail, they're doing a really good job," Kelly said.

The chamber tabled another bill that would eliminate most collective bargaining processes for public employee unions and allowed state agencies to impose terms on public employees in the case of an impasse. The bill would also bar public employees from making any automatic contributions from their paychecks to union dues or charity organizations.

After lawmakers failed to remove the portions of the bill blocking charitable donations, Senate Majority Leader Republican Terry Bruce from Nickerson moved to delay action on the measure. He said after the session that leaving in that portion "probably kills the bill," so the Senate leadership will attempt to split the bill up and vote on it piecemeal.