Equality Kansas announces 2017 legislative agenda

Equality Kansas announced bills to remove outdated or overturned anti-LGBTQ laws from the books.

Six bills drafted and introduced, with plans for at least two more

(Topeka, Kans.) As the 2017 Kansas legislative session neared the end of its fourth week, Equality Kansas, the state’s leading LGBTQ advocacy organization, published its 2017 Legislative Agenda. By February 1, six bills, with plans for at least two more had been drafted and introduced.

“We are very grateful to our elected legislative allies for their assistance in drafting these important bills, and to the committee chairs who were gracious and welcoming of our introduction requests,” Thomas Witt, Equality Kansas executive director said.

Five of the recently introduced bills will roll back discriminatory provisions of Kansas statutes targeted at the LGBTQ population, while the sixth will add sexual orientation and gender identity to the existing law banning discrimination based on race, religion, sex and other factors.

Last week, it was reported that the State of California has banned taxpayer-funded travel to four states, of which Kansas is one, Witt said. California officials cited discriminatory laws on Kansas’ books, and specifically cited a measure passed last year, he said.

The 2016 Kansas legislative session saw the passage of SB 175  which allows taxpayer funded university groups to eject members over religious differences.

“Although the legislation was silent on the reasons a group might want to eject members, floor debate in the House and Senate made clear the target of the bill was our LGBT population,” Witt said. “Backers of discriminatory legislation have for the past several years tried to hide their bias behind a smokescreen of legal arguments, but they fool no one,” he said. The bill to repeal last year’s legislation is SB 139.

Also on the repeal agenda are statutes that have been found unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court and the Kansas Supreme Court.

Two discriminatory marriage statutes passed in the 1990s and 2000s, and the constitutional marriage amendment banning same-sex marriage passed in 2005, were rendered unconstitutional by 2015’s United States Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Additionally, two statutes criminalizing same-sex relationships or treating violations by same-sex couples more harshly than opposite-sex couples have been found unconstitutional and should be repealed.

“Both the US and Kansas Supreme Courts have repeatedly ruled that same-sex couples must be treated equally under the law. It’s time to remove criminal statutes that, while technically unenforceable, are still used to harass and justify discrimination against LGBT Kansans,” Witt said.

The marriage repeal bills are HB 2172 and HCR 5006.  The same-sex sodomy repealers are HB 2216  and HB 2215.

“Last of the bills currently introduced is the one most in keeping with our mission: another attempt to amend the Kansas Act Against Discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity,” Witt said. “This law, which already protects Kansans from discrimination based on race, choice of religion, sex and other factors, lacks protections for the LGBT population. It has been our goal since 2006 to change that.”

This year’s non-discrimination bill is HB 2123.

Equality Kansas also has two more bills in the research and drafting stage. One would amend the 1993 Kansas hate crimes statute, which includes sexual orientation among its protected classes, to include gender identity.

“While seemingly a simple change to existing law, attorneys and prosecutors have told us the current statute is nearly unenforceable. We are working with legislators and attorneys on ways to redraft the statute, and add gender identity in the process,” Witt said. The current statute is KSA 21-6815.

“Finally, we are working on a bill that will ban dangerous and damaging reparative or conversion therapy for minors,” Witt said. “The techniques used to turn kids straight are psychological terror and torture that attempts to fix children who are not broken. If anything, it leads to depression and at times even suicide. We look forward to having a draft bill ready for introduction in the next week,” he said.

There are currently no hearings set for any Equality Kansas bills.

“Getting bills drafted and introduced is the first step,” Witt said. Our next task is to persuade Legislative leadership to grant hearings and begin moving our proposed legislation through the process,” Witt concluded.

All bills introduced in 2017 are subject to action through the end of the 2018 legislative session.

The Gayly – February 2, 2017 @ 4:15 p.m.