As the more than 50 new-to-the-Statehouse lawmakers start wandering around in early January, thereís the chance the relatively obscure issue of labor might pop up.

Labor issues are important ó but because union membership typically is low in Kansas ó itís a topic where new and experienced lawmakers and the administration can dabble without doing serious harm to the overwhelming Republican majorities under the dome.

An indication that labor might be among early topics for target practice is that Kansas now has a fill-in Secretary of Labor, former State Rep. Lana Gordon, R-Topeka, who politely chose to take the summer off rather than jump into a two-way primary with a fellow legislator to retain her seat. Didnít work for the party. State Rep. Annie Tietze, D-Topeka, won the remapped district in the general, defeating State Rep. Mike Burgess, R-Topeka.

The labor secretary seat opened after an under-the-covers kicking contest between the governor and Labor Secretary Karin Brownlee. Governors always win such contests.

So look for a relatively early appointment of a labor secretary and look for that appointee to try to make some sort of mark on the face of Kansas government. Labor and union issues present a relatively safe arena for acting out to demonstrate ideological party allegiance to a generally anti-labor party.

Look for an early move to shut down the possibility for unions to negotiate with employersí political action committee payroll checkoffs. That is seen to conservatives as a big deal, though it is something that management and labor cannot only negotiate to accomplish but which management can negotiate the price for those checkoffs ó in most cases keeping the issue within the company.

But itís a bit of dabbling in employer-employee negotiations that the Legislature can do without upsetting business much and which can be portrayed as important.

Practically, unions and management can negotiate payroll deductions for flowers for the spousesí birthdays if they care to. The only real objection to a political action committee checkoff is probably from legislators who wonít get any of that PAC money support.

A bill to stop that PAC money checkoff has passed the House, but last session the Senate wouldnít consider the measure, which is likely to mean that issue is warming up in the garage of the newly reconstituted now-conservative Senate.

Is this a burning issue for most Kansans? Probably not, because there arenít that many union members in Kansas.

But for a newly sworn in Legislature, itís probably the difference between dogs barking from behind a chain-link fence. Some dogs can snarl over the top of a fence, and some snarl through the fence. We tend to feel more secure when the dog canít look over the fence. In Kansas on labor issues, dogs growl through the fence.

Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawverís Capitol Report. Visit his website at www.hawvernews.com