Another week has come and gone at the Kansas Legislature. On Thursday the Working Kansas Alliance was focused on a very important amendment that was offered to SB 55. Senator Pettey offered the amendment, which would allow Wyandotte County to restore prevailing wage requirement on public construction projects.
Local governments use to have the power to require contractors pay their workers a prevailing wage. Prevailing wage requires that construction workers on public projects be paid the wages and benefits that are found by the Department of Labor to be “prevailing” for similar work in or near the locality in which the construction project is to be performed. But then in 2013 the Kansas Legislature passed, and Sam Brownback signed HB 2069. HB 2069 banned local government from requiring contractors to pay a prevailing wage on public projects. This was a direct assault on local control. Senator Pettey’s amendment would restore Wyandotte County’s ability to require contractors pay a prevailing wage on public construction projects, i.e., local control.
When Senator Pettey originally offered her amendment it was ruled non-germane. However Senator Hensley rose and challenged the rules committee ruling that the amendment was not germane to the underlying bill (SB 55). The Senate voted 24-16 to override the rules committee ruling. This means the amendment can still be offered to SB 55.
The debate surrounding the amendment was very interesting. Senator Pettey pointed out that public construction that projects that were done in the past in Wyandotte County used the prevailing wage. Projects that were created using a prevailing wage in Wyandotte County include the Kansas City racetrack and the Legends. She pointed out that all these projects spurred job growth and increased revenue in the area. She pointed out that projects created using prevailing wage brought in $2 billion to the economy. She also pointed to a study done by UMKC that studied the affects of repealing the prevailing wage in Wyandotte County. That study found that, “the repeal of the prevailing wage statutes in Kansas did not decrease total construction costs as claimed by proponents.” Senator Hensley also pointed out that Kansas was the first state to pass a statewide prevailing wage law in 1891. He also pointed out the hypocrisy of many Senators when it comes to supporting local control. Local control laws that can be perceived as “pro-worker” are constantly preempted by state law and opposed by many in the Kansas Legislature. Stripping these powers from our local governments is bad for workers and our communities.
Opponents of the amendment came up with every excuse in the book. Some of their reasons for opposing the amendment were just factually incorrect. Senator Pilcher-Cook claimed that local governments can still require prevailing wage laws. This is just factually incorrect. In 2013 the Kansas Legislature stripped this power, as was presented earlier. Senator Fitzgerald went off on a loony rant about how the prevailing wage is somehow racist. It was clear the only reason that they were to oppose the Pettey amendment was because they are simply anti-worker Senators.
Unfortunately when the amendment came to a vote the Pettey amendment failed. The final count was 13-27. You can see how your Senator voted below:
We will keep you updated with any new developments.