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.