Republicans in the Kansas House should have heeded the warnings of Democrats and others, including this editorial board, about House Bill 2453, the Religious Freedom Act. If they had, they could have spared themselves and the state a lot of embarrassment.
Instead, the lawmakers dismissed the objections and overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow businesses and individuals, including government employees, to discriminate against same-sex couples – triggering an avalanche of criticism and negative national media attention.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, finally had to intervene last week and block the measure.
The bill, which was crafted by an out-of-state group, was pitched as a needed protection of religious liberties in case the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is ever tossed out by the courts. But Democrats, equal-rights groups and others pointed out during committee hearings that the bill, as written, was effectively a license to discriminate. The committee approved it anyway.
A GOP leader then instructed House Republican caucus members to avoid speaking about the bill during the floor debate. And when Democratic lawmakers raised concerns about discrimination and about how the bill could hurt businesses, Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, rejected such arguments as “spurious.”
But as Wagle acknowledged, the bill really is discriminatory. And business groups agreed that the bill could create problems.
“We want Kansas to be open for business,” Tim Witsman, president of the Wichita Independent Business Association, told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “HB 2453 limits recruiting ability for workers and the state’s ability to bring new visitors and businesses to Kansas.”
Chuck Caisley, vice president of Kansas City Power and Light, called the bill “discriminatory and also unworkable.” AT&T Kansas president Steve Hahn said it was “impossible to implement.” The Kansas Chamber of Commerce also objected to the bill and thanked Wagle for blocking it.
Now some House GOP members have backtracked, saying they regret their vote and wish the issue would “go away.” House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, blamed himself for bringing the bill to the House floor.
Well, it’s good that they realize their mistake. But next time – and there will be a next time – they should listen to the concerns of their colleagues.
Meanwhile, Democrats should feel free to say, “We told you so.”
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee