ACLU of Kansas prepared to challenge Legislature’s attacks on trans kids, voting rights

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Organization wants to eliminate fees for children and legalize medical marijuana

TOPEKA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas is prepared to challenge the Kansas Legislature’s annual attacks on transgender children, voting rights and reproductive health care while searching for common ground on criminal justice reform and medical marijuana.

The organization’s priorities for the 2023 session are mostly at odds with leadership in the GOP-dominated House and Senate. One of the first bills that was introduced this year would ban gender-affirming care before the age of 21, and there is talk of banning drop boxes or tightening the early voting period. Republicans also made it clear they will respond to last year’s rejection of a constitutional amendment on abortion by testing the limits of protections installed by the Kansas Supreme Court in 2019.

Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, talked about the organization’s plans during a recording of the Kansas Reflector podcast.

“Democracy itself is being challenged in the country right now,” Kubic said. “And democracy means not just voting rights, but is really an idea — the idea that everyone counts, that everyone matters, that everyone is part of the community, that everyone is part of a social compact together.”

Voting rights

Kansas has been on the front lines of the battle over voting rights for years, as former Secretary of State Kris Kobach promoted false claims of mass voter fraud.

The ACLU of Kansas in 2018 helped defeat his signature law, which required new voters to produce a birth certificate before registering to vote. Kobach took office last week as the state’s new attorney general.

The current secretary of state, Scott Schwab, defeated an election denier in the Republican primary and openly rejected conspiracy theories about the integrity of elections. Kubic said Schwab deserves credit for taking his job seriously, but lawmakers who think the 2020 presidential election was stolen are still eager for change.

“The folks who have been most vigorous on this issue and trying to push for unnecessary, ineffective and, frankly, wrong restrictions have already signaled that they’re going to do the same again this year,” Kubic said. “Whether they get a broader hearing from other members of the Legislature who are not as deeply embroiled in those conspiracies and misinformation? We’ll see.”

Kubic said the ACLU of Kansas believes democracy is strongest when more people participate.

“All of the attacks on voting rights are really designed to make it harder for particular groups of people — usually communities of color, lower-income communities, younger people especially — to participate in democracy,” Kubic said. “We’ve certainly seen over the last 20 years a sustained, concerted, deeply dishonest, deeply disingenuous campaign to attack the right to vote.”

LGBTQ rights

Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed model legislation passed in 2021 and 2022 that would have banned transgender athletes from participating in school sports.

The Legislature is expected to pass the same law again this year, with the hope that a more conservative House will be able to override the governor’s veto.

Additionally, Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee, and Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson, cosponsored Senate Bill 12, model legislation that prohibits and punishes “gender reassignment service” under the pretense of “child mutilation prevention.”

“It’s intentionally incendiary,” Kubic said of the bill. “It’s intentionally misleading. It intentionally creates an environment of harassment and fear and, frankly, bullying really vulnerable kids.”

“That’s who we’re talking about here: really vulnerable kids. Whether it’s on the athletic side, or in gender affirming care, you’re talking about kids who already face enough challenges in their lives as it is. They are trying to find their way in the world. And here you have a group of adults, of supposed presumed leaders, who have decided that the best way for them to spend their time to exert their precious leadership resources is to bully children. I think it’s really a shame.”

Kubic said most people haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about transgender people, and may not realize they already know someone who is transgender.

When people understand the issue a little better, Kubic said, they become more supportive and enthusiastic about equality.

“I also think that there are some folks in the Legislature who, although they’re not very well informed about what it means to be a transgender person, have no interest in being more informed because they want to deny the very existence of trans people at all,” Kubic said.

Law and order

The ACLU of Kansas wants to eliminate fines and fees assessed to children as they make their way through the juvenile criminal justice system.

The idea that children should pay thousands of dollars is “absurd,” Kubic said. If lawmakers believe the criminal justice system makes society safer, Kubic said, they should be willing to pay for it as a society.

“It’s ineffective, it does nothing to promote community safety, and instead creates a lifelong debt obligation for these children and their families,” Kubic said.

The organization also supports the legalization of marijuana.

Kubic said Black people are exponentially more likely to be arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced harshly for marijuana crimes — even though research shows Black people use marijuana at lower rates than white people.

“It is a deeply, deeply racially discriminatory system,” Kubic said.

On reproductive health care, Kubic said “extremists” have been clear about trying to undermine the vote of the people, and it is clear they don’t respect the Kansas Supreme Court.

In August, voters rejected by 59-41 margin a constitutional amendment that would have allowed lawmakers to ban abortion without exceptions.

“Rather than engaging in a period of deep self reflection about what went wrong, they have instead said, ‘Full speed ahead.’ We’re going to do everything we can to circumvent this,” Kubic said.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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