Kansas senators adopt bills on religious freedom, minimum age of governor candidates

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TimVCarpenter

The Kansas Senate voted to approve bills Thursday offering legal protection to organizations that infuse religious doctrine into placement of children for adoption and setting at 30 the minimum age for becoming a candidate for governor or lieutenant governor.

Both pieces of legislation, the subject of significant debate a day earlier in the Senate, require affirmation from the House before placed on the desk of Gov. Jeff Colyer.

In terms of the minimum age legislation, the Senate voted 29-9 for House Bill 2539, which requires that candidates for governor and lieutenant governor be at least 30 years old. The House version of the same bill would allow individuals as young as 18 to stand for election to those two offices. In 2018, more than two dozen candidates, including a group of high-school students, have registered with the state as candidates for governor.

The adoption provision tied to expression of “sincerely held religious beliefs” was added to House Bill 2481 by lawmakers concerned that such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union would file lawsuits challenging faith-oriented adoption agencies in Kansas that might decline placements to same-sex couples or gay and lesbian individuals.

Several supporters of the bill — sent to the House 28-12 — accused its critics of attacking the Catholic faith by asserting the change in state law would legitimize discrimination.

“The prejudice displayed yesterday towards the Catholic faith was offensive and extremely disappointing,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican. “This bill protects Catholic Charities and other religious affiliated groups to continue doing the most noble work — providing children a loving and safe home in accordance with their religious beliefs.”

Kansas has more than 7,000 children in the foster care system and about 1,000 children available for adoption.

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, said parents who want a child given up for adoption to be raised in their faith tradition, with a married man and woman in the household, should have that choice. People adhering to religious doctrine, even those involved with adoptions, must be allowed to freely advocate against same-sex marriage, she said.

Christie Appelhanz, executive director of the Children’s Alliance of Kansas, said the record number of Kansas children in foster care pointed to the need for a more robust network of homes that provide love, security and support regardless of family structure.

“Prejudice and discrimination are bad for children,” she said. “Whether children have one parent or two, whether their parents are male or female, whether their parents are of the same sex or the opposite sex, matter less for children than does the quality of family relationships and the support of their community.”

On Thursday afternoon, Rep. Susan Humphries, R-Wichita, took to the House floor to urge representatives to officially concur with the Senate’s version of the adoption bill and forward the newly minted faith-based initiative to the governor. She said lawsuits in other states challenging constitutionality of faith-based organizations’ involvement in adoption programs should be prevented in Kansas.

“Why the hurry? There is a storm brewing,” Humphries said. “We don’t want to keep anyone from being a provider. There are families desperate to adopt.”

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, said the faith-based language in the Senate bill would result in “state-sanctioned discrimination” and argued against summary acceptance of the measure.

The House voted 58-64 to reject Humphries’ motion, leaving the bill in the hands of House and Senate negotiators.

During a news conference at the Capitol, Colyer said his administration wouldn’t tolerate discrimination. He also indicated the state should work to preserve and strengthen pieces of the adoption system capable of identifying homes for children ready for adoptions.

“I believe that we need lots of options for kids,” the Republican governor said. “We want more providers.”

Senators also passed bills altering the state’s approach to regulating noxious weeds, authorizing golf carts to be operated at night on public roads and highways, and excluding cash rebates on new vehicle sales from the calculation of sales tax. Oklahoma and Missouri don’t assess sales tax on the cash rebates, placing Kansas at a competitive disadvantage in car sales. The adjustment would reduce Kansas revenue by about $6 million annually, lawmakers said.

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