The namesake of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision involving union fees says Kansas law should be changed to ensure the rights of public employees.

Mark Janus testified before a Senate panel Monday on legislation opposed by unions that represent teachers, police, firefighters, corrections officers and electrical workers.

Senate Bill 175 would allow public employees to stop paying union dues at any time, even if they signed up for a yearlong membership. The bill also would require employers to send annual notices to union members to let them know they can forgo payments at any time.

Janus was involved in the successful challenge of Illinois law that allowed unions to collect fees from public employees who opt out of union membership. The high court last year ruled such fee requirements in the public sector violate free speech protections.

Janus told lawmakers he felt violated.

"We have too many people in this country who think the Constitution is a suggestion," Janus said.

Kansas law is different from the laws affected by the Janus decision because Kansas already allows public employees to leave unions without paying dues. Proponents of the proposed legislation raised concerns specific to the Kansas chapter of the National Education Association, which represents public school teachers.

Teachers who agree to join the union essentially enter into a contract, said Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute. The agreement prevents teachers from leaving the union until the end of the school year, with dues deducted from every paycheck.

"Not being able to leave whenever a public employee chooses to leave and have their dues stopped certainly seems to be in conflict with the Janus decision," Trabert said.

If the Legislature doesn't pass the proposed legislation, Trabert said, public employees would have no choice but to file a lawsuit.

Patrick Wright, an attorney for the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and Vincent Vernuccio, a consultant for the Mackinac Center's Workers for Opportunity initiative, joined Trabert in supporting the bill. Janus said he currently is employed by an affiliate of the Illinois Policy Institute.

Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, questioned whether any Kansas workers are interested in the proposed legislation.

"I don't see a Kansas version of Janus sitting here before us today telling us why we need to change the laws," Holland said. "I see a number of conservative think tanks funded by Koch Industries that tell us why we need to change the laws. So where are the Kansas workers today telling us we need to change the laws?"

Trabert said constitutional rights protect KPI from disclosing its donors but that the organization is funded by hundreds of Kansas citizens.

"Mr. Trabert," Holland said, "your organization is also funded by Koch Industries and the Koch brothers."

John Nave, a former Topeka city councilman who now represents the Kansas AFL-CIO, said passage of the proposed legislation would stifle the voices of public employees who want union guidance.

The bill "serves no purpose except to weaken their collective voice to bargain for their hard-earned wages, health care and the ability to retire with dignity," Nave said.

Other unions called the bill unnecessary and unfair, and raised concerns about employees who could seek union membership to influence a contract vote, then abandon the union shortly after.

Terry Forsyth, of the KNEA, said the true purpose of the bill is to weaken the collective voice of public employees.

"Instead of attacking hard-pressed working families, our Legislature should focus on bringing back lost jobs and restoring an economy that works for all Kansans — not just a few," Forsyth said. "We call on you to stop the distractions and divisions and invest in Kansas again."