Governor signs Lawrence disability advocate’s bill into law

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Self-advocate Kathy Lobb’s decades-long quest has come to an end as a law to grant executive branch employment preferences for disabled Kansans is now on the books.

Gov. Laura Kelly signed Senate Bill 333, also known as Kathy’s Bill, on April 24. The pomp and circumstance with Lobb at the center was postponed until Thursday, May 16 when Kelly ceremoniously signed the bill at the Statehouse.

A photo taken at the ceremony last week and posted to the governor’s Facebook page shows Lobb and Kelly in the middle smiling. They’re surrounded by 14 supporters, including legislators and Lobb’s colleagues, friends and family members.

The post reads, “Thanks to Kathy’s Bill, Kansans with disabilities will now have preferences in hiring, promotion and retention for state employment. This bill will break down barriers, and I was honored (to) sign it into law.”

The law gives individuals with disabilities who meet the qualifications for an executive branch position preference in hirings and promotions and also during government layoffs.

A supplemental note on the bill explains, “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 has testified and lobbied for the bill for decades. She worked for the Self Advocate Coalition of Kansas for 21 years and retired from SACK as its legislative liaison in 2022. Based in Lawrence, the statewide advocacy group of adults with intellectual and/or physical disabilities trains and supports others to advocate “for themselves and to obtain the highest possible level of independence.” Advocacy and passage of the bill has remained high on Lobb’s to-do list since her retirement from SACK.

After Thursday’s signing, a reception was held in Lobb’s honor at the Disability Rights Center of Kansas in Topeka. Near the back of a table full of goodies sat two cakes: One announced, “Congratulations Kathy!” The other emitted sarcasm, declaring boldly in blue frosting, “It only took 25+ years.”

Lobb’s return to the Legislature year after year had paid off.

“I’m glad it’s done,” Lobb, 68, said by phone. “I just persisted on getting it passed.”

Stephanie Sanford / Contributed Rep. Barbara Ballard, in back, and Sen. Marci Francisco, right, celebrate with Lobb.

Sen. Marci Francisco, a Democrat from Lawrence who has served in the Kansas Legislature since 2005, said Lobb’s repeated presence at the Statehouse made a difference. Francisco said she herself didn’t play a direct role in crafting the bill, although she did vote for it; however, she introduced Lobb to some of her colleagues in an attempt to connect fellow legislators with those who might benefit from the bill becoming law.

Kelly previously honored Lobb with a proclamation declaring Nov. 18, 2022 as Kathy Lobb Day. It was delivered to Lobb’s retirement celebration by Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Democrat from Lawrence. Both Francisco and Ballard attended the ceremonial signing last week.

Lobb said the occasion reminded her that Kelly, formerly a state senator, had advocated for SACK nine years ago when the organization’s funding was in jeopardy.

“They were going to close down the SACK office,” Lobb said. “She wanted to make sure that SACK stayed in business and we would advocate for peoples’ rights.”

Another highlight for Lobb was having her mother, Shirley Lobb, attend the festivities along with supporters like Mike Burgess, of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas. The nonprofit organization advocates for the legal rights of Kansans with disabilities.

“The Disability Rights Center of Kansas is so proud to have played a role in getting Kathy’s bill passed into law. This bill has been a dream of Kathy’s for several years, and the bill signing is the culmination of her and everyone’s advocacy,” Rocky Nichols, executive director for Disability Rights Center of Kansas, said in an email.

Lobb said she’s enjoyed receiving congratulatory messages from friends and self-advocates all over the state, including a bouquet of flowers from colleagues at the Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities.

“We stick together,” Lobb said.

Angie Reinking / Contributed Kathy Lobb
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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.

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