Kansas campus speech bill fails over LGBT+ harassment concerns

Kansas legislators have narrowly rejected a bill designed to protect the free-speech rights of college students over concerns that it hamper efforts to fight harassment on campus.

The Senate vote Thursday on the measure was 20-20.

The bill would prevent state universities from having codes that limit student speech or from canceling appearances by offensive guest speakers even in the face of expected protests.

It failed because of a section on how universities discipline students for harassing other students. It would require the harassment to be so severe that it keeps another student from "an educational opportunity or benefit."

Several senators voting no said it would allow harassment of LGBT+ students or prevent universities from punishing students for sexual harassment.

When asked if this measure would be harmful to LGBT+ students, Matthew Calcara, who is running for State Representative, Kansas House District 30, said, "At first glance, this bill seems to innocuously bolster the First Amendment on college campuses. But one section of this bill makes it difficult, if not impossible, for universities to prevent harassment of LGBT+ students by forcing universities to define harassment as only behavior which local, state and federal standards of discrimination prohibit. Unfortunately, only a handful of cities in Kansas offer protection from anti-LGBT+ discrimination, while our state and federal governments offer none.

"There has been little or no evidence of Kansas universities restricting free speech, while there is plenty of evidence of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in Kansas. The Kansas Legislature needs to prioritize the needs of Kansans, and the business community in Kansas (both of which overwhelmingly favor protections for LGBT+ people), over the narrow ideological agenda of the ultraconservative members of the Legislature."

He continued, "This bill is not about free speech. This bill undermines the entire idea of free speech by legalizing anti-gay harassment. It's another example of Topeka legislators with a narrow ideological agenda trying to force that agenda onto college campuses, just as they forced guns to be allowed in classrooms."

Supporters said the measure could be rewritten to address those concerns.

The Gayly. March 16, 2018. 10:35 a.m. CST.