Kansas lawmaker calls for hearing on anti-discrimination bill before session ends

photo by: Associated Press

Kansas state Reps. Brandon Woodard, left, D-Lenexa, and Susan Ruiz, right, D-Shawnee, answer reporters' questions, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019, at the Statehouse in Topeka. Woodard and Ruiz, the first openly LGBTQ members of the Legislature, said they are working on a bill that would expand the state's anti-discrimination law to bar bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

As the Kansas Legislature returned to the Statehouse to begin its veto session on Wednesday, an openly gay lawmaker called on his colleagues to begin working on a bill that would protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination.

Rep. Brandon Woodard, D-Lenexa, who is one of two openly LGBTQ members of the Legislature, told the Journal-World on Tuesday that he is talking to other lawmakers about the possibility of giving House Bill 2130 — which adds “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to the Kansas Act Against Discrimination — a committee hearing during the last part of the state government’s 2019 legislative session.

If approved, the act would provide LGBTQ Kansans with protections from discrimination in the workplace, in housing and in public accommodations. But the probability of the bill’s passage could rely on how quickly the conservative leadership tries to wrap up remaining business, Woodard said.

“I’ll be incredibly frustrated if this bill doesn’t get a hearing because we go home early,” he said.

While the veto session is generally for lawmakers to reconsider bills the governor has vetoed, they can use the time to address bills coming from exempt committees, which are a select few committees that can still work on legislation while the rest are done for the year. But the lawmakers will likely spend most of the time working on the statewide budget, which is the only legislation they must approve before adjourning the 2019 session.

Woodard said he has heard the Senate would like to finish its business by the end of the week, not giving the lawmakers much time to work on other bills. For the Legislature to move forward on the bill, the proposed legislation would still need to receive a hearing in the House’s federal and state affairs committee, one of the few exempt committees, before going to the House’s full chamber for consideration.

If the bill passes committee, it may still face hurdles. Woodard said some of the House Republican leadership have suggested to him that the three aspects of the law — protecting against discrimination in the workplace, in housing and in the use of public accommodations — could be split up into separate bills. Woodard said the lawmakers would not have a good understanding of how to move forward on that until the bill received hearings, but he personally is against the idea.

“I think discrimination of any kind is wrong,” Woodard said. “We need to put all three of these protections in place for the LGBTQ community.”

While Woodard is currently just calling for a hearing on the bill, he also believes the House would approve the bill for passage if it ever came to a full vote. But it is unlikely to reach that point this year.

State Rep. Jim Karleskint, R-Tonganoxie, who also serves on the federal and state affairs committee, agreed with Woodard’s assessment.

“I think it would have a decent chance of passing the House. However, it has to come up for a vote,” Karleskint told the Journal-World via email. “I think there will be pressure put on leadership to keep it from coming to a vote.”

If the lawmakers don’t get the chance during the veto session, Woodard said he would bring the bill right back next year, which would be the session prior to the 2020 election.

“We’re going to keep pushing for it, one way or another,” he said. “If (Republican leadership) prefer we address this in an election year, then they can have their folks go back home to share why they voted against equality for all Kansans.”

Contact Dylan Lysen

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