A pair of bills that would bring the State of Kansas into compliance with the United States Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus decision have passed crucial committee votes and now move to their respective chambers for debate and a final vote.

Senate Bill 361 and House Bill 2586, which are substantially similar, give public employees the ability to immediately cease payment of dues to a labor union whenever they choose; the bills also require an affirmative annual opt-in to join a union, and an annual reminder notice informing public employees of their constitutional right to leave the union at any time — something required by the Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council.

The Janus decision required that public employees have the right to not join a union — nor pay agency fees if they do not, which as a Right to Work state Kansa Public employees were already able to do — and additionally, have the right to leave the union at any time.

Current Kansas law says dues withholding authorizations must be in effect for at least six months before an employee can withdraw, and the state’s largest teacher’s union, KNEA, only allows teachers to withdraw in August.

According to a Sentinel article earlier this week, multiple unions submitted written testimony in opposition to bringing state law into compliance with Janus, but no one testified in person and hearings in the House and Senate became a bit contentious at times during questioning of the proponents. The full audio of the Senate hearing is available here.

The problem, said  F. Vincent Vernuccio, Senior Fellow with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, is that the opponents of these bills really have no good arguments, and Kansas is risking lawsuits if it does not become compliant with the Janus decision.

“They really don’t have good arguments,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “Essentially, this is, first and foremost,  protecting the First Amendment rights of public employees.

“And second, it’s simply good bookkeeping. If you want to take money out of someone’s paycheck, you should have direct evidence of it, instead of simply taking the union’s word for it that someone wants to pay them, and then taking money out of an employee’s paycheck and giving it to the union. This bill says that the public employer simply each year directly ask the employee if they want to pay union dues, and then it has the public employee confirm through an email. It’s very simple, it’s good bookkeeping, and it makes sure that those public employees that want to pay union dues can and will, but that those employers have that evidence of affirmative, consent, clear and compelling evidence of affirmative consent that was required by the Janus decision.”

Both bills would require that each year public employees who want to join a union must simply sign a form which states, in 14 point bold type: “I am aware that I have a First Amendment right, as recognized by the United States Supreme Court, to refrain from joining and paying dues to a labor union (professional employees organization). I further realize that membership and payment of dues are voluntary and that I may not be discriminated against for my refusal to join or financially support a union. I hereby waive my First Amendment right to refrain from union membership and dues payments and authorize my employer to deduct union dues from my salary in the amounts specified in accordance with my professional employees’ organization’s bylaws. I understand that I may revoke this authorization at any time.”

Representative Sean Tarwater (R-Stillwell) said the House version easily passed out of committee.

“This bill passed the House Commerce Committee on an 11- 6 vote,” Tarwater said. “I would expect it to pass the house if it is worked. This bill is important, not only to bring Kansas Statutes in compliance with Janus but to stop the bullying that goes on when a member decides that the public union, as a political organization, no longer represents him or her. I was appalled at what a Kansas Teacher has to go through, and has to agree to sign before they will let him or her out of the union. 

Tarwater said, that while the public employee unions were in the hearing, they declined to speak.

“Most notable, during the hearing, was the fact that the unions were all represented in committee, but only submitted written testimony in opposition,” he said. “They all sat there and listened to some pretty damning testimony, yet not a single one of them would stand up to defend themselves or the unions. I asked them three separate times, and they all declined.  This is all I needed to see. It became apparent that they were there only to intimidate the conferees and they were afraid of any committee questions.”

Senator Julia Lynn (R-Olathe) said Wednesday it did not appear that the Senate was prepared to take up their version of the bill before adjourning.

“I don’t think the majority leader wanted to have a protracted floor debate this year,” Lynn said in a phone interview. “There doesn’t appear to be a sense of urgency by leadership on our side. We got overshadowed by Medicaid expansion and obviously the life amendment.

“I think that has caused leadership on our side to limit the number of bills that come across our floor. This is an election year and there are people … who have lots of public employees in their district.”

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