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Statehouse scraps: Big support for voting rights, transgender ban numbers, homelessness bill paused


Statehouse scraps: Big support for voting rights, transgender ban numbers, homelessness bill paused

Mar 11, 2023 | 4:33 am ET
By Clay Wirestone
Statehouse scraps: Big support for voting rights, transgender ban numbers, homelessness bill paused
Kansas Reflector opinion editor Clay Wirestone works Thursday at the Statehouse in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

If you haven’t visited the Kansas Statehouse before, I recommend it.

The restored building practically glows with early 20th century beauty, and you might spot your favorite lawmaker. You might spot your least-favorite lawmaker too, and if they have a moment you could tell them so. Journalists, including yours truly, show up for the fun.

Don’t think you need a particular reason or excuse to come by, as absolutely none is required. The Statehouse serves the people, and the people have a right to visit.

Now, on to another in a series of breakneck weeks.


ACLU poll

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas released a poll on voting rights Friday. Global Strategy Group conducted the survey, talking to 600 state voters in late January.

The civil rights advocacy group found that 70% of Kansans support measures to make voting easier, rather than adding additional restrictions. Democrats, perhaps not surprisingly, offered the most robust backing (76% strongly supporting, 16% somewhat). Independents followed (35% strongly supporting, 35% somewhat), with Republicans in the back of the pack (21% strongly supporting, 26% somewhat). That still adds up to nearly half of GOP voters, the ACLU notes.

“Kansans look out for each other, so it’s unsurprising that they want their neighbors to have their voices heard,” said Micah Kubic, the group’s executive director, in a news release. “Right now, it feels like our elected officials are falling short.”

Other findings of note: 78% liked the idea of curbside voting at all polling spots, while 80% believed the state should add more places to vote. Unfortunately, the Legislature hasn’t been racing to improve voting access this year. Elections, along with men’s razors and M&M’s, have been politicized.

You can read more about the ACLU’s poll here.

Statehouse scraps: Big support for voting rights, transgender ban numbers, homelessness bill paused
Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, appears Jan. 9, 2023, for a podcast recording in the Kansas Reflector office in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)


Trans sports bill votes

The Kansas Senate on Thursday passed the ban on transgender girls competing in girls sports. The bill, at this stage, looks closer to becoming law than attempts from the past two sessions. The margin for those keeping track was 28-11 in the Senate, with one Republican voting against and one Democrat not taking a side. If these numbers stay where they are, Republicans have enough votes to override a veto from Gov. Laura Kelly in that chamber.

Over on the House side, the picture appears more complicated. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, two Republicans split from their caucus to vote against the bill, and one Democrat split from his to vote for it. Flipping Rep. Ford Carr’s vote appears to be LGBTQ activists’ best hope for preventing the ban from becoming law. Incidentally, Carr replaced the late Rep. Gail Finney, who voted against a similar ban last session.

Rep. Gail Finney, a Wichita Democrat, calls for improved accounting of maternal deaths during a news conference on Jan. 13, 2021, at the Statehouse in Topeka. Democrats announced Finney's death on Saturday. She was 63. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
Rep. Gail Finney, a Wichita Democrat, died in August of 2022 at age 63. Rep. Ford Carr, also a Wichita Democrat, replaced her in the House. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)


Masterson on YouTube

An astute reader emailed to note that the Foundation for Government Accountability — the Florida group working ceaselessly to limit programs meant to help poor people — has produced a YouTube video featuring Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson. And so it has!

The Opportunity Solutions Project, the FGA’s lobbying arm, has been busy this session. It was the the sole proponent of a draconian measure meant to punish the poor by reducing access to food assistance. The group previously bestowed its Legislator of the Year award on House Speaker Dan Hawkins and hired former Gov. Sam Brownback’s deputy chief of staff.

But wait! That’s not all. Masterson also appeared in an FGA video last year about “restoring trust in elections.”


Homelessness bill

House Welfare Committee chairman Francis Awerkamp, R-St. Marys, said at a Thursday hearing the panel won’t work a bill criminalizing homelessness. At least not this year. Instead, the chairman plans to hold a roundtable discussion later this month to hear from experts on the topic. After overflow turnout and passionate testimony against the proposal, Awerkamp should be commended for stepping on the brakes.

That being said, advocates will be watching carefully. Which “experts” will appear, and what will they have to say about the challenges for homeless people in Kansas? Many of those who testified last week seemed highly knowledgeable about the subject. Perhaps the chairman can invite them back to share their perspectives at greater length.

Statehouse scraps: Big support for voting rights, transgender ban numbers, homelessness bill paused
Advocates for the homeless pack a hearing room at the Kansas Statehouse on March 2, 2023. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)


Behind the scenes

Mother Jones magazine published an especially interesting piece Wednesday. Titled “Inside the Secret Working Group That Helped Push Anti-Trans Laws Across the Country,” it draws on a leaked cache of emails to show how lawmakers and advocates from the religious right collaborated on legislation banning gender-affirming care for children.

Did you ever wonder how homophobic and transphobic bills spread from one state to another? Did you wonder why lawmakers in various places spout almost identical talking points? This piece suggests some pretty good reasons why. Out-of-state extremists and state lawmakers connect to spread hateful bills far and wide. Kansas has its own version of this proposal, of course, so keep watching.

Riley Gaines, a former swimmer for the University of Kentucky, said transgender people are taking over women's spaces during a Feb. 15 bill hearing. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
Riley Gaines, a former swimmer for the University of Kentucky, said transgender people are taking over women’s spaces during a Feb. 15 bill hearing. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)


White supremacy message

U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner refused to sign a letter denouncing white supremacy this week. The Republican represents Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District, and he joined fellow GOP members of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee in turning up their noses at Rep. Jamie Raskin. The Maryland Democrat asked the opposing party to join him in standing against “white nationalism and white supremacy in all its forms, including the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory.”

According to Newsweek, a spokesperson for the Republicans said “It’s shameful that Democrats are calling efforts to protect the American people from the worst border crisis in history racist.” That doesn’t appear to be what Raskin’s letter does, but there you go.

U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, a Republican being challenged by Democrat Patrick Schmidt, said he would fulfill a pledge to participate in two general election debates, including a public television debate Thursday in Topeka. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)
U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, a Republican, didn’t add his name to a letter from a Democrat condemning white supremacy. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)


He can see me

Finally this week, I’m glad to note that both my Twitter account and the Reflector’s have been followed by actor and wrestling powerhouse John Cena.

He’s apparently been putting journalists from across the country and world on his list, but no one appears to know why, according to a December article from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Theories range from having a former journalist as his social media manager to scouting talent for an online venture of his own.

I sent Cena a direct message seeking comment, but I haven’t heard back. I’ll let you know if I do.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, the Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.