Politics & Government

Kansas House votes to block contracting with Israel boycotters

The Kansas House votes Wednesday on HB 2409, which would bar state agencies and departments from contracting with companies and individuals that boycott Israel.
The Kansas House votes Wednesday on HB 2409, which would bar state agencies and departments from contracting with companies and individuals that boycott Israel. The Wichita Eagle

A measure that would block the state from contracting with those who boycott Israel has won approval in the Kansas House.

HB 2409 would prohibit state agencies and departments from entering into contracts with anyone who is boycotting Israel. The state would require written certificates from service, supply, IT and construction contractors that they weren’t boycotting the Jewish state.

House members approved it 116-9 Wednesday. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Kansas would become the next state to react to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement. That’s a Palestinian-led boycott movement of Israeli businesses and entities.

Rep. William Sutton, R-Gardner, asked lawmakers to pass the bill to stand with “an important trade partner for both the United States and of Kansas.” He said Kansas needs to support America’s closest ally in the region.

“It’s in the best interest of Kansas to continue our strong partnership with Israel,” Sutton said.

In 2016, Kansas exported $56.7 million in commodities to Israel and imported $83.7 million from Israel, according to the Kansas Department of Commerce.

Sutton said any company openly boycotting Israel was “perpetrating an act of economic warfare against a Kansas trade partner and ally.”

It’s in the best interest of Kansas to continue our strong partnership with Israel.

Rep. William Sutton, R-Gardner

Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City, said some concerns about First Amendment rights arose in a committee discussion about the bill. But he said there has also been discussion about the importance of Israeli trade to Kansas.

“This is a nationally charged issue,” he said in support of the bill. “If you believe in democracy, then this is probably where you should be.”

But Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence, raised concerns about Israel’s human rights record, calling the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip a violation of international law.

“It’s an open-air concentration camp,” he said Tuesday.

He said the written notices amounted to “requiring certificates of political correctness.”

“That puts us on a very slippery slope and may well be unconstitutional,” he said in written opposition Wednesday.

This bill is unnecessary and imposes unnecessary regulatory burden on Kansas businesses.

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita

Wichita Democrats Elizabeth Bishop, John Carmichael and Gail Finney were among the nine lawmakers voting against the bill. Carmichael said he valued the friendship with Israel.

“This bill is unnecessary and imposes unnecessary regulatory burden on Kansas businesses,” he said.

Seventeen other states have passed, and 10 are considering, similar legislation, Sutton said. A similar bill has advanced in the Texas legislature in recent weeks.

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar

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