By John Celock
The Republican-controlled Kansas House of Representatives Thursday afternoon voted against a proposal to require government contracts go to companies employing Kansans.
The amendment from state Rep. Annie Tietze (D-Topeka) would require that government contracts go to companies that hire at least 70 percent state residents. Republicans argued that the amendment would cause other states to retaliate against Kansas and would also hurt jobs for residents of other states. The Tietze amendment came during debate on a bill to expand an economic development program. Tietze’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 87-36.
“We talk about the American dream and we want to grow jobs but we need to create jobs first,” Tietze said of her amendment.
Republicans, led by House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee Chairman Marvin Kleeb (R-Overland Park), argued the amendment had potential legal hurdles and would hurt the state’s overall economy. Kleeb said that he had fears that other states would decide to go against Kansas companies if they attempted to bid on government contracts in those states.
Kleeb argued that the state would be closing its borders. During the debate Kleeb stressed that he had “grave concerns” about the amendment, noting that it would “hurt the Kansas economy.”
“It sounds good in theory but when you look at the practicality. We have reciprocity here. Will Missouri and Oklahoma do the same thing?” Kleeb said in the debate. “We have companies here who do business all across the United States and the world. All of a sudden we are closing our borders and losing jobs. We will find our Kansas workers not being welcome to bid on other state contracts.”
Tietze said that the bill would not cause problems for Kansas workers and said that courts have ruled that similar laws are legal, citing a case involving a Boston municipal law. She also noted that neighboring Colorado has a similar law requiring 80 percent employment.
Kleeb argued that companies would be forced to layoff workers from other states in order to hire Kansas workers to meet a state mandated quota. In addition he cited that out of state companies would fear bidding for contracts in the state because of the mandate and the need to hire Kansas workers. He also said that out of state companies might not want to move their workers to Kansas because they might be able to get government contracts.
“Are companies going to run ads and be on CareerBuilder saying we’re only hiring Kansans today?” Kleeb said. ”Will the accountant come out and say we have to let six Missourian go to reach 70 percent goal, let six Oklahomans go.”
Kleeb did stress that he is in favor of hiring Kansas residents for jobs.
Tietze argued that workers that move to Kansas from another would become Kansans and count towards a requirement.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis (D-Lawrence), the presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee, noted that the amendment included language that would allow the state to pick another company if the company with state workers did not make fiscal sense to be picked. Davis also argued about the need to hire more Kansans.
While Republicans argued that the bill would be “protectionist” and hurting the state’s economy, Democrats argued that the state needed to focus on itself.
“We should not be making decision in this chamber based on what other states might do,” state Rep. Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) told his colleagues during the debate. “If you believe that Kansas taxpayers are good enough to pay for these contracts and that they are good enough to get the jobs then vote for this amendment.”