Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed legislation Friday making English the state's official language, joining at least 29 other states that have made English their official or common language. The new law takes effect July 1.
It was among 18 bills Sebelius signed, including measures enacting tougher requirements for the Kansas Offender Registry, clarifying Kansas Consumer Protection Act coverage of health care providers and requiring schools to adopt anti-bullying policies.
Last week, Sebelius expressed reservations about the English bill, saying she didn't think it was necessary and didn't go far enough to help people learn the language. At one point, the bill included $500,000 to pay for English classes, but that was removed from the version the governor received.
"Having money for the programs is something that makes sense, and she hopes the Legislature does something next year about providing money for teaching English," said Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran.
The new law says no state or local government agency has to provide documents or hold meetings in any language except English, but nothing prevents them from offering documents in another language or using interpreters at meetings.
After protests from advocates for immigrants, legislators reworked the bill with an eye toward making it appear less punitive. Even so, Hispanic groups criticized the legislation as anti-immigrant. Supporters say they were responding to constituent demands to do something about illegal immigration. They also said the bill was a way to encourage people to learn English.
"The message is: English is the only valid language for communication in our state, but tough if you can't speak it very well because we aren't going to help you learn it," said Melinda Lewis of El Centro Inc., a Hispanic advocacy group in the Kansas City area.
The governor also signed a bill requiring those in the state offender registry maintained by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to report to their local sheriff three times a year instead of twice annually to update personal information and be photographed.
It also requires them to provide officials with the license tag number of all vehicles they drive, along with e-mail addresses and online identities they use.
"We will have better and more frequent contact with these people, but everybody agrees these are people that we want to keep track of and they are worth the effort to do it," said KBI Deputy Director Kyle Smith.
Added to the list of those who must register are those convicted of making or selling methamphetamines or possessing chemicals with the intent of manufacturing the drug and those convicted of selling narcotics within 1,000 feet of a school.
They would have to remain registered for 10 years on a first conviction. A second conviction would require a lifetime registration.
Also signed by the governor was a bill to clarify that individuals can't sue physicians and other health care providers for medical malpractice under the consumer protection act. Such lawsuits are handled under other sections of the law.
It still allows individuals, the attorney general or county prosecutors to sue under the act for deceptive advertising or billing practices.
The legislation was prompted by a state Supreme Court ruling in February that said the act applies to the conduct of doctors and other health care providers in providing care because the law didn't specifically exclude them. It suggested the Legislature could remedy the situation.
Also signed was a bill requiring school districts to adopt policies prohibiting bullying on school property or vehicles and at school-sponsored activities. It also requires the 296 districts to implement a plan to address bullying that includes training and education for staff and students.
Many school districts already have such anti-bullying programs, but the bill makes it a statewide requirement.