House lawmakers strike out legislation meant to end Kansas local anti-discrimination measures

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TOPEKA — Following backlash to legislation that would have nullified local government anti-discrimination protections, lawmakers voted to strike the offending section from an anti-discrimination bill. 

Rep. Mike Amyx, a Lawrence Democrat, along with other lawmakers, said the change was a good idea.

“I think it allows for ordinances that have been worked long and hard for nondiscrimination back in our cities and our counties to continue to do the good work they’ve done,” Amyx said. 

The bill, House Bill 2376, deals with restrictive covenants, which dictate how owners and tenants use a property. An amended form of the bill, which was passed out of the House Local Government Committee on Monday, would remove unlawful and racist language from housing documents.

Covenants were once used to racially discriminate against Black and Jewish homeowners and renters, prohibiting them from residing in certain areas. Restrictive covenants can still be found in properties across Kansas, especially in Johnson County.

While these covenants haven’t been legally enforceable in decades, state law only allows homeowner associations to remove covenants prohibiting property ownership by Black people, Jewish people and others. Groups have lobbied to get rid of them entirely, calling them a damaging remnant of racism in the state.

The bill would smooth the way for removing discriminatory covenants on deeds, plats, declarations and conveyances filed at county register of deeds offices. The legislation would permit covenants to be released by owners of real property and create a process for municipalities to delete discriminatory language from property documents.

In its original form, however, the legislation introduced by Wichita Republican Rep. Patrick Penn was heavily criticized by civil rights groups

That version would have also stricken local government anti-discrimination measures and barred cities and counties from creating tighter anti-discrimination measures than current state law, which doesn’t provide LGBTQ protections. 

Critics said the rights of Black people and Jewish people were pitted against the rights of LGBTQ people in the original bill language. Rabbi Moti Rieber, executive director for Kansas Interfaith Action, called the un-amended measure a “Trojan horse.” 

“The cynicism of using an important anti-discriminatory measure as a cloak to undermine nondiscrimination ordinances throughout the state should not be lost on anyone,” Rieber said in Feb.15 testimony to the committee. 

Bill revisions released by the committee Monday removed the section nullifying local anti-discrimination ordinances. 

“It’s terrible to pit two minority groups against each other,” Equality Kansas lobbyist Taryn Jones said. “It’s not needed. I think this bill is perfect now they’ve amended it, and we’re so happy it passed.”

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: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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