Kansas Senate panel OKs bill on civil service; House to review Democratic member's remarks



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TOPEKA, Kansas — A proposal that could shrink Kansas' civil service system cleared a state Senate committee Tuesday as part of a crowded legislative agenda that also included negotiations over budget issues.

The Senate Commerce Committee approved a bill making it easier for state agencies to move jobs outside the civil service, lessening job protections for the affected workers. The House approved the measure last week, and it goes next to the full Senate for debate.

Three senators and three House members had a second day of negotiations Tuesday over the final version of a $15.5 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The Republican-controlled House also released a complaint filed by nine GOP members against a Democratic Rep. Valdenia Winn of Kansas City over comments during a House Education Committee meeting earlier this month. The complaint forced the appointment of an investigating committee of three Republicans and three Democrats, and it planned to have its first meeting Wednesday.

Here is a look at significant legislative developments Tuesday.


CIVIL SERVICE CHANGES

The civil service proposal comes from Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and would allow state agencies to remove jobs from the civil service when filling vacancies or when employees accept promotions or transfers.

Kansas has about 13,000 civil service workers, who have greater job protections than workers outside the system.

Supporters of the bill contend the change would give state agencies more flexibility and allow for greater rewards to high-performing employees. But public employee groups say the bill would lessen protections from arbitrary firings and demotions.


HOUSE INQUIRY

The nine Republican legislators who filed a complaint against Winn are upset that she described a bill before the committee as "racist" and "fear-mongering." Winn is black, as are two of the lawmakers lodging the complaint.

The bill, tabled by the committee, would have repealed a 2004 law that grants a tuition break at state universities and colleges to certain students who came to the U.S. illegally.

According to a meeting transcript, when an Education Committee member objected to Winn's reference to "racist bigots who support this bill," she said the measure promoted institutional racism and, 'if the shoe fits, it fits."

The complaining lawmakers called Winn's comments "inflammatory" and "reprehensible."

Winn did not return telephone messages seeking comment Tuesday evening.

The investigatory committee must review the complaint and consider whether to recommend sanctions. The full House would have the final say on any disciplinary action, which could include a censure or expulsion.


BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS

House and Senate budget negotiators didn't resolve any major differences during their talks Tuesday and planned to meet again Wednesday.

They're discussing dozens of items, but their key differences are on higher education spending and the budget for the state's court system.


UNIVERSITY PROSPECTUSES

The House Appropriations Committee had a hearing on a Senate-approved bill that would require state universities to publicize information on graduates' average salaries, student loan debt and employment.

Senators backing the bill say it would help students choose a university and major, but some lawmakers have balked at the potential cost of up to $5.5 million annually.

The House committee took no action.


CHANGING ELECTION LAWS

House and Senate negotiators agreed on the final version of a bill to change the date of local elections and cancel future presidential primaries, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1G4jOZU ).

The measure would move city and local school board elections to the fall of even-numbered years from the spring of odd-numbered years.

Supporters say the change will boost turnout in local elections, but many local officials say they see no need for it.

The measure also repeals a law that schedules a presidential primary every four years. Lawmakers have canceled each one since 1992, usually because of the cost, leaving Republicans and Democrats to have caucuses.


Associated Press writer Nicholas Clayton contributed to this report.


Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org


Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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