Kansas Gov. Colyer signs bill giving faith-based child welfare services access to state contracts, even if they discriminate

Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, February 2014.

TOPEKA — Gov. Jeff Colyer signed a bill Friday that gives private, faith-based child welfare agencies access to state contracts for adoption and foster care placement services, even if they refuse to work with families on the basis of the agency’s religious beliefs.

Senate Bill 284 contains the so-called Adoption Protection Act, which was pushed by a number of faith-based agencies in response to actions in other states where they have been denied contracts, or even lost their licenses, because they refuse to place children in homes of single individuals, unmarried couples or same-sex couples.

They also argued that with more than 7,000 children now in the Kansas foster care system in need of either temporary homes or adoptive parents, the state needs as many options available as possible to work with those children. And in the case of adoption services, they argued, some birth mothers will only work with faith-based agencies.

“By keeping faith-based adoption agencies in our state, we give more children the opportunity to be adopted,” Colyer said in a statement released Friday afternoon. “We are grateful for the work done by these and other placement agencies who are working hard to bring families together.”

The bill says no private agency can be required to take part in placing a child in any home if doing so would violate the agency’s “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

It also bars the state from taking certain actions against those agencies, if the actions are based solely on the agency’s religious beliefs. Those include denial of the right to participate in programs operated by the Department for Children and Families and denial of reimbursement for work they perform on behalf of other agencies on contract with DCF.

“The adoption option in a crisis pregnancy is a pro-Life, Kansas value,” Rep. Chuck Weber, R-Wichita, said in the statement. “The Adoption Protection Act guarantees faith-based agencies the ability to serve their clients without the looming threat of litigation or closure.”

The child welfare system in Kansas is much different from most other states because it is almost entirely privatized. Two nonprofit agencies work on contract with the state, and they in turn subcontract with other local agencies to place children in foster homes or match children up with adoptive parents.

Civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Equality Kansas, a gay rights advocacy group, argued that the bill would open the door to taxpayer-funded discrimination.

“We are now forced to pay for taxpayer services which we will be denied. That’s our objection,” Equality Kansas executive director Tom Witt said in a phone interview. “If they want to do this private discrimination with private money, that’s their business. But they’re using the LGBT community’s tax dollars to do this.”

Colyer signed the bill at a ceremony at the Youth Horizons Kinloch Price Boys Ranch in Valley Falls. The governor’s office described that as a residential home that provides care for boys with severe individual and family challenges.

Identical versions of the bill were introduced in both the House and Senate during the 2018 session, but neither came out of their respective committees. Instead, language from the bill was added on the floor of the Senate by Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, as an amendment onto another bill, House Bill 2481, updating existing statutes on adoption.

The House initially refused to accept the Senate’s change, and it languished in a conference committee for several weeks.

It finally came out of the conference committee, with its language inserted into a Senate bill, on May 3, the next to last day of the session. It passed the House, 63-58, the bare minimum number of yes votes required. It then went to the Senate where it passed, 24-15.

The Adoption Protection Act was one of two bills Colyer signed into law Friday.

He also signed House Bill 2280, which gives the director of the budget authority to review and approve new rules and regulations adopted by state agencies. It also requires more detailed economic impact statements about proposed new regulations, including a statement about the extent to which a new rule or regulation would enhance or restrict business activities and growth.

And he also announced that on Thursday he signed House Bill 2111, which effectively reduces sales taxes on new vehicle purchases by deducting the value of manufacturer rebates from the price paid for the vehicle, as long as the buyer pays that rebate to the seller as part of the purchase agreement.


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