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Monday, July 14, 2014

Kansans approve two amendments

Eagle staff

Kansas voters approved two amendments to the state constitution.

Voters said yes to an amendment affirming individuals have the right to own firearms and to an amendment removing a never-used constitutional provision allowing the Legislature to block people from voting if they have a mental illness.

The gun question was placed on the ballot by the 2009 Kansas Legislature in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that said the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment grants individuals the right to bear firearms.

Proponents said they wanted to make sure the Kansas Constitution would be interpreted the same way. They pointed to a 1905 Kansas Supreme Court decision that said the right to bear firearms was a collective right, not an individual right.

They proposed an amendment that would specifically give the right to every Kansan.

The voting rights question was placed on the ballot by the 2010 Kansas Legislature in response to efforts by mental health advocates.

The provision allowing legislators to block voting by the mentally ill was added in the 1970s, but there is no accompanying definition for what constitutes a mental illness.

Although the provision has never been used, advocates contend the language should be removed. Because mental illness is not defined, it could be construed to include someone with depression or a soldier with post-traumatic stress, they say.

The explanation on the ballot contained some wording that might have baffled some voters: A phrase says the amendment "would ensure that the right to vote for persons with mental illness cannot be taken away by the Legislature."

State officials said last week that the wording, which had been approved by the Legislature, could not be changed before the election.

Secretary of State Chris Biggs said he thought most people would realize the measure is not about protecting the right to vote for mentally ill politicians.

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