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Brownback plays down possibility of furloughs; state can send workers home without notice under new rule

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The Topeka Capital-Journal

Under regulations adopted last year, state can bypass 30-day requirement
Posted: May 27, 2015 - 1:36pm
By Jonathan Shorman

Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday tamped down the possibility state workers will be furloughed if lawmakers don’t pass a budget soon, a day after his administration confirmed planning for such a scenario is underway.
The state hasn’t given the Kansas Organization of State Employees notice that workers will be furloughed, the union’s director said, adding that a 30-day heads-up is required before employees are sent home.
But a state regulation adopted last year allows the administration to issue emergency furloughs and bypass the notice requirement.
A budget may need to be approved and signed into law and published by June 6 to avoid beginning the furlough process, some lawmakers have said. The Legislature is stuck looking for about $400 million in either spending cuts or new revenues to balance the budget.
The administration said Tuesday it is working to determine the last possible date a budget can be passed before furlough notices would be issued. Brownback, a Republican, said Wednesday the administration hasn’t yet determined a date when notices will have to be sent out. But the date itself may turn out to be squishy.
“If you said, ‘OK, it’s this date,’ but if the bill passed the next day, you’d say, ‘well, we’re not going to start sending the notices out even though’ — so that’s why there’s some fluidity with it and it’s important the Legislature do something that’s right and not just expedient as possible,” Brownback said in a brief interview.
Rebecca Proctor, KOSE director, said in her eight years with the organization she doesn’t remember furloughs occurring previously. Notice must be given if furloughs are going to take place, she said.
“By our contract, we have to have 30 days’ advance notice of any furlough plan and within seven days of notice they have to sit down and discuss the plan with us,” Proctor said.
However, state regulations were changed this past fall to allow for emergency furloughs. Under the new regulation, an emergency furlough may take place if there is an “immediate or imminent lack of funding” to continue state agency operations. Under an emergency furlough, state agencies would have to cease operations not otherwise excepted by law.

While emergency furloughs don’t require notice, Department of Administration spokesman John Milburn said, administrative furloughs do. Administrative furloughs address budget reductions that occur for reasons other than a lapse in appropriations, according to the regulation.
“However, the current situation would meet the definition of an emergency furlough pursuant to (state regulations), and an emergency furlough does not require a furlough plan so the 30 calendar days wouldn’t apply,” Milburn wrote in an email. “The regulation was amended last September to provide for emergency furloughs. Prior to that, all furloughs required a plan and the 30 calendar day notice.”
Lawmakers reviewed the regulatory change in May 2014, according to minutes of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules and Regulations.
At the meeting, Kansas National Guard Brig. Gen. Scott Dold from the Adjutant General’s Office told lawmakers the revisions were critical because of concerns about funding from the federal government. Brett Flachsbarth, with the division of unemployment insurance in the Department of Labor, said at the meeting that there were a number of employees in state government who would be affected by a drop in federal funding.

A Department of Administration economic impact statement on the regulatory change said the use of emergency furloughs would be rare. Now, less than a year after the change, the state faces the potential for emergency furloughs — not because of a lapse in federal funding, but because of a lapse in state funding.
“While the occurrence of such emergency furloughs is anticipated to be relatively rare, it will ensure that agencies are able to react quickly in response to such situations, thereby avoiding possible financial harm,” the impact statement reads.
Topeka-area lawmakers expressed a strong desire to avoid furloughs. Rep. Lane Hemsley, a Republican who represents south-central Topeka, said such a scenario would be bad for all affected.
“I think that would be bad news for Topeka, bad news for my district,” Hemsley said.
Rep. Annie Kuether, a north-central Topeka Democrat, said the conversation over furloughs shouldn’t even need to happen because Republicans have large majorities in the Legislature and should be able to get the job done.
Rep. Annie Tietze, a Democrat representing western Topeka, said she learned of the possibility of furloughs from news media. She said she knew, however, that the state must come up with money for paychecks.
“State workers have not been a priority all this session, so my outlook on this whole process is not one of positivity,” Tietze said.

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