Lawmakers Advance HR Overhaul

By John Celock

A Kansas legislative committee has advanced legislation that would overhaul the state’s human resources policy.

The House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee voted 9-7 Wednesday afternoon to approve legislation that would allow the state to move classified positions to unclassified going forward. The policy change was sought by Gov. Sam Brownback (R) as part of his administration’s proposed changes to the HR policy in both legislative and regulatory ways.

“This bill will allow the state agencies to get the flexibility they are asking for,” state Administration Department public affairs director John Milburn told The Celock Report after the committee’s action. “This is one key piece of our overall modernization plan. Other changes we’re making with regulation will give us a better workforce that taxpayers deserve.”

Under the legislation, state agencies will be able to change over positions from a civil service classified post to unclassified after an employee has vacated the position through retirement or moving to another post. State officials have argued that the move would allow for better recruitment of a replacement and allow agencies to find someone who could be a good fit. In addition, officials have argued that the change would allow for a position to be tailored for specific skillsets, which would tougher to accomplish under the civil service rules.

If a classified employee wanted to move into an unclassified position, they would have to give up their civil service protections.

Milburn has stressed that the bill would not force classified workers to move into unclassified posts and would not see their current jobs become unclassified without their consent.

The proposal has received opposition from Democrats and labor-backed groups. Assistant House Minority Leader Louis Ruiz (D-Kansas City) told the committee Wednesday that he believed that the change would not benefit Kansas residents. The Campaign for Working Kansans tweeted Wednesday after the bill’s passage that the Legislature “continues its attack on public servants from all angles.”

The committee rejected a proposal Tuesday from Rep. Annie Tietze (D-Topeka) that would delay implementation of the bill until next year and call for further study to be conducted on the provisions. Rep. Gene Suellentrop (R-Wichita) had proposed an amendment calling for a delay for one year on the provisions for the Department of Corrections and state mental hospitals, which he withdrew on Wednesday.

The committee did change other components of the bill. Lawmakers reversed a proposal by the Department of Administration that would change the state’s donated leave policy for employees. The agency had sought to move the program back to its original definition of the donated leave being for “life threatening” illnesses and not for the current policy which covers “severe” and “extreme” illnesses along with life threatening.

Milburn said that the agency understood the proposal from Rep. Rick Billinger (R-Goodland) to keep the policy language the same. He said the department would work with Billinger to develop regulations to clarify the policy language.

Under the donated leave policy, an employee can donate leave to another employee if they have exhausted their existing leave due to an illness.

In addition, the committee kept the state’s longevity program the same by requiring agencies to pay for it out of existing budgets, instead of only providing the bonus if appropriated by lawmakers.

Milburn said the Administration Department is pleased with the final bill passed by the committee.

“We’re very pleased to get the bill out of committee. We understand the concerns raised by the committee on certain provisions,” he said. “We are happy with the final product and are confident when it reaches the House floor.