TOPEKA – Kansas employers would not be allowed to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers under a proposal offered on Monday by the state’s first two openly LGBT lawmakers.
Legislation from Rep. Brandon Woodard, D-Lenexa, and Rep. Susan Ruiz, D-Shawnee, would add sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class in state law — prohibiting on-the-job discrimination for those reasons. Woodard and Ruiz were elected in November as the first openly LGBT lawmakers in the Kansas Legislature.
“I think about how in Kansas we really want to attract new businesses and we really want a diverse workforce. And one of those ways is to continue to have Kansas look like a very welcoming state,” Ruiz said.
Opponents of a non-discrimination law warned it will be used to target people of faith.
“it’s been used as a sword” against people who want to live out their faith, said Brittany Jones, advocacy director for the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas.
The House bill has 36 co-sponsors. Sen. Barbara Bollier, D-Mission Hills, has also introduced an identical Senate bill that has 17 co-sponsors. To pass, bills needs 63 votes in the House and 21 in the Senate.
The bills come after Gov. Laura Kelly signed an executive order reinstating non-discrimination protections for LGBT state employees, protections that had been eliminated under Gov. Sam Brownback.
The bills would go beyond the scope of Kelly’s executive order, applying to businesses, housing and public accommodations. The bills add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s existing non-discrimination law, which already includes religious exemptions.
But Jones said those exceptions apply to clergy and don’t extend to individuals simply trying to live out their faith.
Non-discrimination bills have been introduced in previous years. But supporters are hopeful that the combination of a supportive governor and openly gay lawmakers will help advance the legislation.
“This change is long overdue,” Kelly said in a statement, adding that it’s critical that all Kansans are protected from discrimination.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said Monday he had not yet read the bill.