WASHINGTON -- Kansas Republican legislators are being warned to take increased security precautions in the state Capitol on Wednesday -- and female lawmakers are being urged to walk with a "male escort" -- as a contentious anti-union bill is scheduled to come up for debate and a vote.
Freshman Republicans in the state House of Representatives were briefed during a caucus meeting Tuesday afternoon about a series of security guidelines they should follow, given the large crowd of union members expected in the Capitol. State Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park) tweeted that the precautions include removing name tags, taking a back staircase into the House chamber and for women legislators to walk with a "male escort."
The House is slated to debate legislation that would prohibit automatic deductions from paychecks of public employee unions that are intended for political activity by the union.
The chief lobbyist for the Kansas Chamber of Commerce told a House committee last week that the bill was part of a goal to "get rid of" public sector unions.
State Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) told The Huffington Post that the House GOP freshmen were told to expect an increased police presence on Wednesday and that the increased security is in response to what he said were incidents surrounding a 2011 vote on legislation opposed by unions. He said that, among other incidents, legislators were screamed at by union members and that female lawmakers were "singled out." During the 2011 vote, several union members were escorted from the House gallery for shouting.
"I think the issue with women was they were singled out and screamed at," Claeys said. "That was brought up with the past issue. I think it is probably good that we maintain decorum in the people's house. If the police presence allows us to maintain that feeling, then it would serve its purpose."
Clayton did not return calls for comment, but did get attacked on Twitter for her initial posts, including by former state Sen. Jean Schodorf, a longtime Republican who became a Democrat hours after leaving office earlier this month. Schodorf called the security precautions "ridiculous" and accused the GOP of "creating a situation to discredit the unions" on Twitter. Clayton tweeted back to Schodorf that she should "do research about people before making assumptions."
Clayton also tweeted that she did not have a problem with union members exercising their First Amendment rights and said that the legislature was advised to be careful. Democratic freshmen legislators told HuffPost that their caucus had not received a similar briefing.
"I feel perfectly safe in the Capitol," state Rep. Emily Perry (D-Mission) told HuffPost. "I don't think anyone would corner me or harass me."
Colin Curtis, the spokesman for United Steelworkers 307, said that union members in 2011 did not say anything more than "vote no" when Republican lawmakers walked by them and did not create a security problem in the hallways. Curtis said that "people will be watching" Wednesday's vote, but did not say how many were expected in Topeka. He took issue with the security precautions.
"I believe this is a complete overreaction," he said. "They are trying to paint the hard-working men and women of Kansas as union thugs when they are not."
Curtis said he was not surprised that Democrats are not taking the same precautions. "They are not going to paint the third-grade teacher as a union thug when that third-grade teacher spends her day with your children," he said.
Kansas Democratic Party spokesman Dakota Loomis also condemned the precautions.
"They believe this fantasy of union members as thugs and bullies, when they are hard-working people," Loomis said. "They are creating their own fear."
During a hearing on the bill last week, state Rep. Peggy Mast (R-Emporia) compared the state's teachers union to "bullies." For his part, Claeys, who voted for the bill in committee, said he would not remove his name tag, but said he stands ready to assist a female colleague.
"If they are entering into an area with some harassment, I'd be more than happy to help, though I'd be more of a target," Claeys said, noting his committee vote.