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Archive for Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Funeral picketing bill on fast track

March 19, 2008

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Funeral picketing bill sent to chamber

A House committee made quick work of a new funeral picketing bill, sending it on to the full chamber for debate. Enlarge video

— Legislators moved quickly Tuesday to get restrictions on funeral picketing back on the books in the home state of the Rev. Fred Phelps, whose followers regularly protest services for soldiers throughout the nation.

Endorsement by the House Federal and State Affairs Committee of a picketing bill came only a week after the Kansas Supreme Court ended enforcement of a law enacted last year.

The committee heard testimony on the bill and then voted to send it to the House for debate later this week or early next week.

Normally, committees consider bills and vote on them on different days.

The committee also reworked the bill so that after the House passes it, the Senate could vote upon it within days - and send it to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. She said last week she looked forward to signing a constitutionally sound bill.

A unanimous court ruled March 11 that a section regulating funeral protesters can't be enforced because the statute's so-called judicial trigger is unconstitutional. The legislation was written not to take effect until it was upheld by a state or federal court.

The court didn't address the merits of the law, which says protesters can't be within 150 feet of a funeral one hour before, during or two hours after a service ends. It also makes it unlawful to obstruct any public street or sidewalk.

"At issue was the trigger and the court was limited to that," said Rep. Raj Goyle, the bill's sponsor. "There's nothing as an issue dealing with the buffer zone."

The Wichita Democrat said the court released the opinion more than two weeks before its regular hand-down day to give legislators a chance to fix the law.

"I read the opinion as a fairly clear statement the court wants the Legislature to act in this case," Goyle told the committee.

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