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Labor will come up early in Legislature

As the more than 50 new-to-the Statehouse lawmakers start wandering around in early January, there's the chance that the relatively obscure issue of labor may pop up.

Labor issues are important -- but because union membership is generally low in Kansas -- it's a topic where new and experienced lawmakers and the administration can dabble without doing serious harm to the overwhelming Republican majorities under the dome.

An indication that labor might be among early topics for target practice is that Kansas now has a fill-in Secretary of Labor, former State Rep. Lana Gordon, R-Topeka, who politely chose to take the summer off rather than jump into a two-way primary with a fellow legislator to retain her seat. Didn't work for the party. State Rep. Annie Tietze, D-Topeka, won the remapped district in the general, defeating State Rep. Mike Burgess, R-Topeka.

That Labor Secretary seat opened after an under-the-covers kicking contest between the governor and Labor Secretary Karin Brownlee. The governors always win those contests.

So look for a relatively early appointment of a Labor secretary and look for that Labor secretary to try to make some sort of mark on the face of Kansas government. Labor and union issues present a relatively safe arena for acting out to demonstrate ideological party allegiance to a generally anti-labor party.

Look for an early move to shut down the possibility for unions to negotiate with employers political action committee payroll checkoffs.

That is seen to conservatives as a big deal, though it is something that management and labor cannot only negotiate to accomplish but which management can negotiate the price for those checkoffs -- in most cases keeping the issue within the company.

But it's a bit of dabbling in employer-employee negotiations that the Legislature can do without upsetting business much and which can be portrayed as important.

Practically, unions and management can negotiate payroll deductions for flowers for the spouses' birthdays if they care to. Only real objection to a political action committee checkoff is probably from legislators who won't get any of that PAC money support.

A bill to stop that PAC money checkoff has passed the House but last session the Senate wouldn't consider the measure, which is likely to mean that issue is warming up in the garage of the newly reconstituted now-conservative Senate.

Is this a burning issue for most Kansans? Probably not, because there aren't that many union members in Kansas.

But for a newly sworn-in Legislature, it's probably the difference between dogs barking from behind a chain-link fence. Some dogs can snarl over the top of a fence and some snarl through the fence. We tend to feel more secure when the dog can't look over the fence.

In Kansas labor issues, dogs growl through the fence.

Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report, the nonpartisan news service focusing on Kansas government and politics. For more information, visit www.hawvernews.com.