City leaders to consider safe-haven ordinance protecting against anti-trans law SB 180

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on Jan. 31, 2023.

A safe-haven ordinance codifying protections for transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people — and the LGBTQ+ community in Lawrence as a whole — will be up for consideration by city leaders this week.

Draft ordinance No. 9999 is slated to appear on the Lawrence City Commission’s agenda this week for its first reading. The ordinance would declare the City of Lawrence a “safe haven for all persons from the effects of discriminatory acts, legislation, regulation and other actions.”

That includes people affected by SB 180, according to the agenda item report for Tuesday’s meeting. As the Journal-World reported, there’s been no shortage of local public outcry against the anti-transgender law passed earlier this year by the Kansas Legislature, which bans transgender people from using the bathrooms and other gender-specific areas associated with their gender identity. In part, some of those voices came from people involved with the No SB 180 in Lawrence initiative, which has been working with city attorneys and Lawrence attorney David Brown to craft the ordinance since late June.

The ordinance states that the city’s public officials, officers, employees, agents and contractors will not gather or disseminate information regarding any person’s “biological sex, either male or female, at birth,” nor will it assist or cooperate in any investigations, arrest procedures, surveillance or information gathering conducted by any jurisdiction with the authority to enforce SB 180. The ordinance also bars the inclusion of any question regarding one’s “biological sex, either male or female, at birth” on any city application, questionnaire or interview form related to benefits, services or opportunities offered or provided by the city.

City leaders are considering the draft ordinance on a faster turnaround than the city proposed just last week. As the Journal-World reported, the ordinance was originally slated to appear on a City Commission agenda at one of its early August meetings.

Leading up to Tuesday’s meeting, Lawrence Mayor Lisa Larsen, Lawrence Police Chief Rich Lockhart and Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez have all voiced opposition to SB 180, with Valdez saying she would not prosecute anyone under the law, which has no enforcement provisions. Civil rights groups have been pressing for more concrete protections, however, namely in the form of the ordinance up for consideration this week.

In other business, the commission will:

• Consider notifying Douglas County of the City Commission’s intent to propose a tax rate of 33.207 mills for its 2024 budget.

That’s the property tax rate that was presented with City Manager Craig Owens’ recommended budget earlier this month. It’s a flat rate compared with the 2023 budget, but the city is expected to collect about $3.58 million more in property taxes next year due to a growing tax base.

The City Commission has to notify the Douglas County Clerk’s Office if it intends to exceed the “revenue neutral rate,” the tax rate that would keep property tax revenues stable compared to a year ago. To stay level with that rate, the proposed rate of 33.207 mills would have to be reduced by 2.5 mills, equivalent to about a $71 reduction in city property taxes on a $250,000 home.

If approved, city leaders would take part in public hearings to exceed the revenue neutral rate and in public hearings about the 2024 budget as a whole at their Tuesday, Aug. 22, meeting. After the city notifies the county clerk of its intent to exceed the revenue neutral rate, the mill levy rate can still be reduced but it can’t be increased. That would set 33.207 mills as the maximum authorized levy for the 2024 budget.

• Receive an update from the Community Police Oversight Work Group.

The city-appointed group is tasked with recommending changes related to police oversight in Lawrence while the Community Police Review Board’s meetings remain suspended in an effort to address its narrow existing process for reviewing complaints. The work group recently hosted the first of two community forums intended to gather public feedback that will inform the group’s eventual recommendations to the City Commission.

The Lawrence City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.


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