- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A bill aimed at preventing a partial shutdown of state government was approved late Friday night by a Kansas House committee whose measure would prevent workers from being furloughed because of the Legislature’s impasse on budget and tax issues.

The Appropriations Committee’s action came in a hastily called meeting, hours after thousands of workers in state agencies and at state universities received furlough notices. The full House planned to debate the bill Saturday morning.

The measure would deem all state employees essential as long as the Legislature hasn’t had the brief ceremony marking the official end of its annual session. That event isn’t likely to be scheduled for several weeks.

Absent such a measure or without a deal by Sunday on taxes and spending for the fiscal year beginning July 1, the state is not authorized to pay nonessential state employees next week. Employees’ compensation lags several weeks behind their work, so that they won’t be paid for the two-week period beginning Sunday until early July.

“We don’t want state employees to have their lives disrupted while the Legislature works through the intricacies of developing tax policy,” said Republican Rep. Marvin Kleeb, of Overland Park, who serves on the Appropriations Committee and is chairman of the Taxation Committee.

At least 24,200 employees received furlough notices Friday, and Kansas’ largest state employees union said it would file legal action should the furloughs be enacted.

The House on Wednesday approved a proposed budget that would leave the state with a $406 million shortfall, but GOP lawmakers are sharply divided over raising taxes to fill the rest of the gap. Unlike the federal government, the state is required to pass budgets without deficits.

The impasse has made lawmakers’ current session the second longest in state history. The looming possibility of a partial government shutdown is “like some nightmare,” said Democratic Rep. Tom Sawyer from Wichita.

Figures provided to The Associated Press on Friday showed that almost 71 percent of employees who have received furlough notices work at a state university. Department of Administration spokesman John Milburn said about 7,100 employees at agencies under Gov. Sam Brownback’s direct control have been sent notices.

The University of Kansas reported sending furlough notices to almost 5,300 workers, and notices went to another 2,600 workers at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Kansas State University announced it sent notices to 8,720 employees, while Pittsburg State University sent 530.

Rebecca Proctor, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said she believes the potential furloughs are illegal and she now plans to file both labor grievances and legal actions on Monday if they are enacted.

Normally, furloughs are negotiated with state employee unions with 30 days’ notice given to workers before they go into effect, she said. The administration has said the notification requirements can be waived because the current situation meets the criteria of an emergency, which Proctor called “ridiculous.”

“I don’t see how anyone in good conscience can argue that this is an emergency,” Proctor said, arguing that legislators could have addressed the budget situation sooner.

The furloughs would not apply to public school employees or judicial branch workers because budgets for those agencies have already been signed into law. Because state employees receive their salaries two pay periods after the pay is earned, furloughed workers would not lose pay until July 3, said Gwen Larson, a spokeswoman for Emporia State University.

Jason Bosch oversees student activities at Emporia State and said he received a furlough notice Friday afternoon. He said he is less concerned about himself than his 20 employees, some of whom live paycheck to paycheck.

“It makes me wonder if our legislators truly have an understanding of how their actions, or really their indecisions, are affecting the lives of Kansans,” he said.

Brownback said Friday evening that he is optimistic the Legislature can pass a budget he would sign in time to avoid furloughs.

“It’s time to get this done,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Heather Hollingsworth contributed to this report from Kansas City, Mo.

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Online:

Department of Administration furlough FAQ: https://1.usa.gov/1RQ6ATQ

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Follow Nicholas Clayton on Twitter at https://twitter.com@ClaytonNicholas and John Hanna at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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