Monthly Archives: March 2011
During my nine years of serving in the Kansas legislature, I have never seen a legislative session such as the one we are currently in where workers’ rights have been under a sustained attack. From cutting unemployment benefits to stripping classified workers of due process protections, the Kansas Legislature has turned a cold shoulder to Kansas workers. The assault continued last week when business interests came before the Senate Commerce Committee to advocate for so-called “paycheck
protection” legislation that amounts to nothing more than an unconstitutional stifling of the political voices of union employees.
House Bill 2130 as passed by the House would make it unlawful for any union member, professional or public employee to voluntarily have deductions taken out of their paycheck for political activities. The bill would also prohibit public employees from endorsing candidates for state or local office. The Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), and the Kansas Organization of State Employees (KOSE) were primary targets of this crushing legislation. Both organizations have been very active in Kansas politics.
Proponents in support of the legislation indicated that the purpose of the bill is to “get government out of the political process”. They believe that “government should not be involved in supporting any organization’s political activities, regardless of their merit”. They went on to state that “banning payroll deductions for political speech similarly furthers the government’s legitimate interest in distinguishing between internal government operations and private speech”.
In fact, this bill would directly inject government INTO the political process by hindering the free political speech of union members without any such restrictions to corporations and other membership organizations. The Supreme Court has recently spoken rather forcefully on this issue, coming down foursquare for First Amendment political speech in the recent Citizens United V. FEC case. In its ruling the court specifically extended political free speech to “corporations, unions and any other groups, foreign or domestic in citizenship or allegiance”. This bill also runs into trouble as it is plainly trying to discriminate against a particular viewpoint (i.e. – against that of union employees) as the bill makes no attempt to control or regulate employees making automatic payroll deductions to corporate PACs. First Nat’l Bank of Boston v. Bellotti also suggests constitutional problems (“Especially where . . . the legislature’s suppression of speech suggests an attempt to give one side of a debatable public question an advantage in expressing its views to the people, the First Amendment is plainly offended”).
I find it incredibly ironic that those who would normally clamor for less government intrusion and adherence to free market principles would turn right around and use the cudgel of government to stifle the political free speech of those that they disagree with. Like the marketplace of products and services, there is also a marketplace of political ideas. Let’s let the consumers of political thought have access to all viewpoints and decide for themselves what is best.
From erecting security border fencing and walls to increasing the number of temporary worker permits to providing a pathway to citizenship, federal politicians continue to offer a variety of solutions addressing illegal immigration. I have always believed that it is imperative that we as American citizens dialogue and develop consensus on the underlying causes of illegal immigration so that our federally elected officials can be held accountable to honestly and effectively address this issue.
Illegal immigrants come to the U.S. for jobs. The Pew Hispanic Center has estimated that there were approximately 11.2 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. in March 2010 with approximately 8 million illegal immigrants in the work force. This means that illegal immigrants currently make up approximately 5 % of the U.S. work force, with one out of every twenty workers in America being an illegal immigrant. And this phenomenon comes with a hefty price tag. A study published by George Borjas, a professor of economics and social policy at Harvard University, concluded that by increasing the supply of labor between 1980 and 2000, immigration reduced the average annual earnings of U.S.-born men by an estimated $1,700 or roughly 4 percent. He also found that among U.S.-born men without a high school diploma (approximately the poorest tenth of the U.S. workforce), the estimated impact was even larger, reducing their wages by 7.4 percent.
I have consistently maintained that the only way we will ever reduce this significant pool of illegal labor is by having the U.S. government aggressively 1) protect its borders and 2) identify and sanction those employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Given the federal government’s continued inaction on the issue, however, states across the country are implementing their own solutions. This year I have sponsored legislation (SB 181) that would require both Kansas governmental entities and
Kansas businesses who receive government contracts to use the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify system to verify the employment eligibility of new hires starting on or after January 1st, 2012. The purpose of the bill is to begin putting employers on notice that purposefully hiring illegal immigrants will no longer be tolerated.
The Kansas Legislature has a rather dubious record on this issue. Despite a number of bills introduced since the 2003 session (a number of which I have sponsored or co-sponsored), the legislature has failed to toughen existing penalties that are widely perceived as being weak and ineffective. The legislature did, however, make some progress during 2006 by passing misclassification legislation I sponsored that assists the Kansas Department of Revenue in identifying those companies that purposefully mis-classify workers as independent contractors instead of W-2 employees (a prevalent business practice for those firms employing illegal immigrants). The bill allows the Department to charge those violators with penalties and interest for not reporting and paying state income tax withholdings. Given Kansas citizens’ concerns regarding illegal immigration, I am hopeful that E-Verify will finally become part of the state’s hiring practices this year.
There will always be those who would try to use illegal immigration as a means for simply fanning American fears and prejudices against immigrants. If we want to get serious about stopping illegal immigration, however, we must instead focus our attention on fellow U.S. citizens who knowingly or intentionally hire illegal immigrants. We simply cannot tolerate those deliberate business practices that slowly but surely undermine the economic aspirations and potential of Kansan working men and women.