Bill named after Lawrence self-advocate Kathy Lobb headed to governor for signature

Share this post or save for later

On Friday, the Kansas Senate passed “Kathy’s Bill.” Gov. Laura Kelly’s signature is now all that’s missing for Kathy’s Bill to become law. It’s been a long time coming for the self-advocate who brought it to life, Kathy Lobb.

Kathy’s Bill would give people with intellectual and developmental disabilities preference in hiring, promotion and retention for state government jobs.

When Lobb went to bed Friday night, she was smiling. Earlier in the evening she’d received a phone call from Mike Burgess, director of policy and research for the Disability Rights Center of Kansas. Burgess informed Lobb that her bill had passed the Senate 36-1.

“I was really happy, to tell you the truth,” Lobb said. “I was really happy, and so was my mother.”

On Saturday, Lobb waded through congratulatory social media posts and messages from her friends and fellow advocates across the state.

“I’m just hoping that when she does get the bill, that we can set a date that we can go over and get my picture taken with her,” Lobb said, referring to Kelly.

Carter Gaskins/Lawrence Times Kathy Lobb sits in her office at Self Advocates Coalition of Kansas on Oct. 28, 2022. (File photo)

The bill will move on to the governor’s desk after its signature in both chambers. Kelly has 10 days after receipt of the bill to act on it. If she takes no action, the bill automatically becomes law.

Kathy’s Bill would give qualified individuals with disabilities preference in hirings, promotions and state government layoffs. “The bill would require hiring authorities for such positions to offer an interview to persons with disabilities who meet the qualifications of the position,” a supplemental note on the bill read. “If a situation occurs in which a disabled veteran, surviving spouse of a deceased disabled veteran, or surviving spouse of a prisoner of war applies for the same position, preference would go to the individual with the highest qualifications.”

Lobb, 68, has taken up disability and advocacy causes throughout her life. Rep. Barbara Ballard, Democrat from Lawrence, attended Lobb’s retirement celebration in November 2022 and delivered a proclamation for the occasion from Kelly declaring Nov. 18, 2022 as Kathy Lobb Day.

Lobb has lobbied for the bill now named after her for more than 20 years and provided testimony on it numerous times. Lobb worked for the Self-Advocate Coalition of Kansas for 21 years and retired from SACK as its legislative liaison in 2022, but advocacy and passage of the bill has remained high on Lobb’s retirement to-do list.

During legislative testimony in 2023, Lobb testified that people with disabilities shouldn’t settle for sheltered workshop jobs. The term “sheltered workshop” typically refers to supervised workplaces where individuals with disabilities are employed. Many so-called workshops are criticized for their exemptions from labor standards such as minimum wage requirements.

“I would like people with disabilities to work at the state level, not only in a workshop. I think that we can work anywhere!” Lobb’s written testimony read. “People with disabilities and self-advocates can do what others do here in the state capitol and for people that live anywhere in our state.”

Lobb expanded on that statement Saturday.

“They deserve to be paid minimum wage and not just 10 cents here and there,” Lobb said. “’Cause in sheltered workshops, they don’t get paid that much. I used to work for a sheltered workshop, so I know.”

Rep. Dennis “Boog” Highberger, Democrat from Lawrence, said he had introduced Kathy’s Bill on behalf of the Kansas Commission on Disability Concerns several times during the 10 sessions he’s represented Lawrence in the Kansas Legislature.

Dennis “Boog” Highberger

“And I’m really, really happy that after all her efforts this has finally come to pass,” Highberger said.

Highberger said Kathy’s Bill served as example of how “sometimes, you know, if you want to get good things through the Legislature, it’s more than a one-year process” and Lobb had the persistence needed to see it through.

“There are a lot of people with disabilities out there who would like to work and sometimes face barriers,” Highberger said. “I think this will take one barrier away and I think it will be good for people with disabilities and good for the state of Kansas too.”

This legislative session’s effort to pass Kathy’s Bill was ultimately tacked onto Senate Bill 333 — a bill extending the state use law committee through July 2029. The committee advises the Kansas purchasing director on issues involving products and services provided by blind or disabled vendors.

Joining forces helped Kathy’s Bill clear hurdles after repeated attempts at passage of the bill, said Angie Reinking, executive director of Arc of Douglas County. Reinking, Lobb and other advocates attended the House’s unanimous passage of Kathy’s Bill on March 25.

Contributed Proponents of Kathy’s Bill were at the Kansas Capitol on March 25, 2024. The bill’s namesake, Kathy Lobb, stands in front. She’s surrounded, from left, by Mike Burgess (Disability Rights Center of Kansas), Stephanie Sanford (Self Advocate Coalition of Kansas) and Angie Reinking (Arc of Douglas County).

Before the vote, Rep. Sean Tarwater, Republican from Stilwell, told the House he considered Lobb a friend.

Tarwater said the pair had worked together for eight years, and he met Lobb during her support for the disability tax credit. Tarwater called Lobb a leader who had done “a fabulous job of making sure the voices of those with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities are included in policy discussions, and she does an excellent job at it.”

“And those of you that have been around her, she has coined the phrase, ‘When are you going to hire a person with a disability?’” Tarwater said.

Tarwater told his colleagues Kathy’s Bill had been passed out of committee several times but was then scratched from the legislative calendar at turnaround deadline or at the end of session. He asked House members to recognize Lobb, who sat in the corner of the House floor.

“I’m so happy for Kathy that we’re finally passing her law,” Tarwater said.

If our local journalism matters to you, please help us keep doing this work.
Don’t miss a beat … Click here to sign up for our email newsletters

Click here to learn more about our newsletters first

Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

Latest Lawrence news:


Previous Article

Lawrence school district names new assistant principal of Billy Mills Middle School

Next Article

KU debate pair finish second in country at national tournament