TOPEKA – Wichita City Council Member Brandon Johnson said the Kansas Legislature has no interest in undermining cities and counties working to amplify laws aimed at reducing discrimination based on race, disability, gender and national origin in housing, employment or public housing.
Johnson added his voice to a chorus opposing a section of a House bill introduced by Rep. Patrick Penn that strikes down local government anti-discrimination measures and bars local government units from enacting discrimination restrictions beyond state or federal law. The bill was described by opponents as a response to the local government’s creation of anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people related to gender identity and sexual orientation.
“This is an offense under local control and current practice that allows municipalities, cities and counties to be more restrictive than state statute but no less restrictive,” Johnson said. “Any governing body that seeks efforts to reduce discrimination is doing the right thing and sending a message that discrimination has no place in Kansas.”
The bill would declare the supremacy of state and federal discrimination law when it conflicts with local government policy. This philosophy would appear to run counter to the goals of a bill introduced by Sen. Chase Blasi, R-Wichita, to give cities and counties the power to enact stricter abortion regulations than state law provides.
Penn, a Wichita Republican, incorporated this state’s usurpation of local government control into a bill that would otherwise make it easier to remove discriminatory covenants on deeds, documents, declarations, and conveyances filed with county deeds offices. .
Those covenants were no longer enforceable due to legislative and court actions over the past half century, but Kansas law only allowed homeowner associations to initiate the removal of covenants prohibiting the ownership of property by Black, Jewish, and other. The bill would allow real estate owners to issue covenants and create a process whereby municipalities could strip discriminatory language from property documents.
Penn addressed the House Local Government Committee during Wednesday’s hearing on House Bill 2376. He also spoke on Tuesday about his attempt to repeal local government authority during remarks to people gathered in the Capitol rotunda for the Black Legislative Day.
“There are several localities, including Wichita, that have instituted something called a ‘discrimination ordinance.’ Right? And it wasn’t done the right way and it was coerced and it targeted many other communities on the other side of that law,” Penn said.
Approval of the bill by the Legislature, if signed by Democratic Governor Laura Kelly, would prohibit cities and counties from implementing or enforcing anti-discrimination regulations, resolutions or ordinances not reflected in state and federal law. The House committee took no action on Penn’s bill, but the concept could be changed across a wide range of bills later in the session.
In addition to silencing local sentiment about discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the bill would apparently repeal local government protections of unrecognized military veterans from state law.
Solana Flora, mayor of Mission in Johnson County, said the House bill would reverse local government action to address discrimination. She said Section 2 of the bill was an “attack on local control more broadly and an example of the Kansas Legislature’s attempts in this session to undermine and attack LGBT+ rights.” She said the bill pitted black and Jewish rights against LGBTQ rights in an “unnecessary and unwarranted” way, she said.
“It is false that this bill hides the prohibition and repeal of the non-discrimination ordinance in what purports to be pro-civil rights legislation. Such subterfuge breeds cynicism in government and undermines voter confidence to the detriment of both state and local government,” Flora said.
Stacey Knoell, executive director of the Kansas African-American Affairs Commission, said it would be a mistake to preempt local scrutiny to dismantle protections from discrimination.
“The only parties protected or helped would be those trying to discriminate against another group,” Knoell said.
Equality Kansas lobbyist Taryn Jones said supporters of Section 2 of the bill “appear to be saying, ‘We’ll give you what you want, but only if you allow us to discriminate against a vulnerable population.'”
Representatives from the Kansas Association of Counties, the Kansas Association of Realtors, and the unified county government of Wyandotte and Kansas City passed the House bill without referencing Section 2.
Spencer Duncan, who lobbies for the Kansas League of Municipalities, lauded the effort to get rid of illegal alliances in violation of the Kansas Act Against Discrimination. He asked the committee to drop Section 2 so that the bill focuses on discriminatory covenants rather than local government non-discrimination work. “With Section 2 removed, the league would support this legislation,” Duncan said.