Topeka The Kansas chapter of the NAACP and other organizations Thursday criticized Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal to move the state agency that investigates complaints of discrimination to the attorney general’s office and announced they’re planning a march and Statehouse rally to protest the plan.
Brownback’s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 assumes about $231,000 in savings from ending the Human Rights Commission’s status as a stand-alone state agency, largely because three staff positions would be eliminated, including its executive director and chief attorney. Brownback’s aides also contend the commission will be more effective if its investigations are handled by the attorney general’s office.
But the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People worries the change will make the commission less effective and more partisan, given that the attorney general is elected. Its state leaders noted that Kansas has had an independent commission since 1953.
The NAACP is part of a coalition opposing the move that includes the gay-rights group Kansas Equality Coalition, the Kansas chapter of the National Organization for Women, the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters. The commission also opposes the proposal.
Critics of Brownback’s plan have scheduled their protests for March 19. The march is to start at the national historic site in Topeka commemorating the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared school segregation unconstitutional. Organizers hope to have 1,000 participants.
“I think we’re at a point where we can no longer sit idle and not do anything,” the Rev. Ben Scott, president of the NAACP’s Topeka chapter, said during a news conference. “We are standing tall. We are standing together.”
Legislators still don’t have a bill making the necessary changes in Kansas law to move the commission into the attorney general’s office. However, the Senate Ways and Means Committee’s spending recommendations for the commission assume the change, and the House Appropriations Committee is expected to consider it Friday in reviewing the commission’s proposed $1.6 million budget for the next fiscal year.
Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said the commission will be more effective after the move because the attorney general’s office can obtain subpoenas for information. She said the governor isn’t trying to limit investigations of discrimination complaints.
“The intention is to put them with the attorney general’s office, who will allow them to have greater investigative tools and to be more effective,” she said.