Views from Kansas: Cut-and-paste bills a bad idea

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

A new bill in the Kansas Legislature would require every public classroom, library and municipal building in the state to display the national motto, “In God We Trust.”

The proposed measure is overbearing, unnecessary and likely unconstitutional.

But besides that, it’s yet another example of the “insert-state-here” brand of legislation that’s too frequently finding a foothold in the Kansas Statehouse.

A national effort called Project Blitz, founded by a coalition of conservative Christian groups that includes the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, has persuaded numerous state legislatures to introduce laws restricting same-sex marriage, establishing Bible classes in public schools, or allowing adoption agencies to deny placements because of religion.

A primary element of the coalition’s agenda — detailed in a 2017 talking points sheet — focuses on laws that “recognize the place of Christian principles in our nation’s history and heritage.” Such laws “are likely to receive the least opposition,” the document says, but “can have enormous impact” and “a significant ripple effect.”

One of the coalition’s most successful efforts has been to plaster “In God We Trust” on school walls. Over the past few years, seven states — Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, South Dakota and Tennessee — have approved legislation requiring or encouraging public schools to post the motto.

Now the group seems to have found another ally in Rep. Michael Capps, the embattled Republican lawmaker from Wichita who has been accused of emotionally abusing children and linked to a false smear campaign against Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple.

Capps said he isn’t familiar with Project Blitz and that he “worked with colleagues directly, face to face” for more than two months to draft his bill. Other sponsors include Rep. Ron Howard of Wichita, Rep. Cheryl Helmer of Mulvane, Rep. Emil Bergquist of Park City and Rep. Bill Rhiley of Wellington.

Capps says he reviewed legislation from several states as part of his research, but also looked at court cases and read judges’ opinions. Even so, the overall concept and language of the Kansas proposal closely mirrors efforts elsewhere.

This isn’t the first time Kansas lawmakers have served as enthusiastic mouthpieces for questionable agendas.

Last year, anti-gay extremist Chris Sevier successfully lobbied Republican legislators to introduce bills that would have declared same-sex marriages “parody marriages” and mandated an anti-porn filter on all new phones and computers sold in the state.

Back in 2012, controversial tax-reform proposals spearheaded by former Gov. Sam Brownback were closely linked to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-funded group that provides “model” legislation to states.

If lawmakers approve the “In God We Trust” motto proposal, it would join other legislative directives aimed at Kansas schools. In 2013, the legislature passed a requirement that schools recognize “Celebrate Freedom Week” in mid-September and that religious references in writings not be censored.

Kansas lawmakers in 2018 agreed to end the longstanding practice of anonymous bills, which kept the public from knowing who is behind a particular proposal. But obviously, that hasn’t stopped Mad Libs-style legislation.

Kansas representatives should spend their time crafting meaningful proposals, not cutting and pasting special-interest laws into the legislative agenda.

— Originally published in The Wichita Eagle


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