Topeka Kansas lawmakers gave final passage Wednesday to a bill that would bar the state from contracting with companies or individuals engaged in a boycott against Israel, despite claims by some that the bill is likely unconstitutional.
Similar bills have been introduced in most statehouses across the country. If Gov. Sam Brownback signs the bill, as is expected, Kansas would become the 21st state to enact such a law, according to the Israel Project, a national pro-Israel organization that is pushing the legislation.
In fact, the Israel Project was so confident that it issued a press release on June 3, immediately after the Senate passed a version of the bill, praising the Legislature for sending it to the governor.
The Senate actually had actually made a slight change to the bill, meaning it had to go back to the House, which then requested a conference committee to come up with compromise language. That process took an additional four days.
In an email, Kenneth Bricker, senior press associate for the Israel Project, called that a "minor procedural event that might technically change the final outcome of the House vote, but not the outcome of the legislation."
The bill is a response to the Palestinian-led "BDS Movement," which stands for "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions," a protest movement that began in 2005 seeking to punish Israel for alleged violations of international law and human rights stemming from Israel's building of a wall around Palestinian territories.
Rep. William Sutton, R-Gardner, who supported the bill, noted that Wednesday was the 50th anniversary of what he called the "reunification of Jerusalem," which had been divided until the Six Day War of 1967.
Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence, responded to that, saying it was also the 50th anniversary of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In May, the Kansas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to lawmakers, saying the bill was an unconstitutional infringement on the right of free speech.
"According to the United States Supreme Court, 'speech on public issues occupies the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values and is entitled to special protection,' and nonviolent political boycotts have consistently been held as core political speech, unquestionably protected under the First Amendment," Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, wrote in the letter.
Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, also spoke against the bill when it was debated last week in the Senate.
"Government contractors are protected against unconstitutional conditions placed on the exercise of constitutional rights, including coercion of political association and, as here, coercion of non-association," she said, borrowing language from the ACLU letter.
The final version of the bill passed the Senate, 36-3, on Wednesday. A few hours later it passed the House, 99-13.