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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Lawmakers outline ongoing session

  • The scheduling of municipal elections, Common Core education standards and a bill dealing with religious objections to gay marriage were among topics discussed Saturday during a legislative update hosted by the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce.
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    • Up next:

      The next legislative update hosted by the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. March 22 at the Riverfront Community. The event is f...

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      Up next:

      The next legislative update hosted by the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. March 22 at the Riverfront Community. The event is free and open to the public.

  • The scheduling of municipal elections, Common Core education standards and a bill dealing with religious objections to gay marriage were among topics discussed Saturday during a legislative update hosted by the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce.
    State Reps. John Bradford and Connie O'Brien and state Sens. Steve Fitzgerald and Tom Holland discussed issues that have come up during the legislative session.
    Bradford, a Republican, represents the Kansas House of Representatives' 40th District, which includes Lansing and a portion of the city of Leavenworth.
    O'Brien, a Republican, represents the House's 42nd District, which includes the cities of Easton and Tonganoxie.
    Fitzgerald, a Republican, represents the Kansas Senate's Fifth District, which includes the cities of Leavenworth and Lansing.
    Holland, a Democrat, represents the Senate's Third District, which includes the cities of Easton, Basehor and Tonganoxie.
    During his opening remarks, Fitzgerald talked about a bill that has passed in the House and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.
    He said House Bill 2453 has been misrepresented and lied about.
    The bill would prohibit government entities from requiring individuals or religious organizations to provide services related to marriages, civil unions or other domestic partnerships if it's contrary to religious beliefs. The bill also would prohibit people from being required to treat marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships valid because of religious objections.
    Critics of the bill argue it would allow discrimination against gay couples. Supporters argue the bill protects religious freedom.
    The bill passed in the House on Feb. 12 by a vote of 72-49.
    "I think the issue does need to be discussed," Fitzgerald said.
    He said bad misinformation had been given to the public regarding the bill.
    O'Brien, who voted for the bill, said it was a difficult decision. But, she feels she made the right vote based on her position on religious freedom.
    Holland said he's received a lot calls about the bill.
    "I've got a lot of concerns about this," he said.
    Holland said he cannot support the bill.
    He said he supports the idea of someone not being required to perform a marriage ceremony because of a valid religious belief.
    But, he expressed concern the bill would allow government employees to deny services when they disagree with a person's living situation.
    The legislators were asked about proposals for moving municipal and local school board elections from the spring to the fall as well as making the elections partisan.
    Currently, these elections are held in the spring of odd-numbered calendar years, and candidates do not declare party affiliation.
    Page 2 of 3 - Fitzgerald said this is the second year the issue has come up. He has raised issues in the past regarding how making the elections partisan could restrict who runs for these offices because of the federal Hatch Act. The law prohibits federal employees from running in partisan elections.
    Fitzgerald said some of the local spring elections have had voter turnout percentages in single digits.
    "It's very difficult to call this representative government," he said.
    He said shifting elections to the same time as presidential or gubernatorial elections may at first glance seem to solve the problem.
    But, this could raise issues with the Hatch Act as well as result in a large number of people running at the same time, he said.
    Fitzgerald said he would support moving the municipal and school board elections to November of odd-numbered years. He would not support making the elections partisan.
    Bradford said he also supports moving the elections to odd-numbered years and keeping them non-partisan.
    He said the intent of moving the elections would be to drive up voter turnout. But, putting local candidates on the same ballots as national candidates would be unacceptable.
    O'Brien said she also supports moving the municipal and school board elections to November of odd-numbered years, but the elections must remain non-partisan.
    She said one concern that has been expressed is the length of the lame duck period for school board members. School board candidates don't take office until July 1.
    But, she said a similar situation already exists with county treasurers who don't take office until October.
    O'Brien said she doesn't see the issue going forward this year.
    Holland said the municipal and school board elections need to be non-partisan. The senator said he wanted to reach out to local government officials for their thoughts on the issue.
    Candidates were asked about Common Core standards.
    Bradford said a bill was introduced last year to eliminate the standards in Kansas because of the cost and data collection required. That bill failed to pass the House. But, it has been reconstituted this year as a different bill.
    Bradford said he believes there's been a lot of education over the summer regarding Common Core standards.
    He said there was a committee hearing on the current bill last week and 72 people showed up to testify. He said the people were evenly divided on the issue.
    The representative said emails he has received on the issue have been about 5-1 in favor of getting rid of Common Core standards.
    Bradford said he believes the current bill has a 50-50 chance of making it out of committee in the House. If it doesn't, officials likely will work on the issue this summer to try to come up with something that is amenable to both sides.
    Page 3 of 3 - "Kansas is not alone," Bradford said. "This is going on all over the country."
    O'Brien said parents don't seem to like Common Core standards.
    She said officials should slow down and take a look at the issue.
    "I feel like we need to pull back," she said.
    Holland said he feels the Legislature is meddling in something it shouldn't be meddling in.
    "We're talking about educational standards," he said.
    He said the standards are abstract, and local school boards are selecting the textbooks that will be used by students.
    Fitzgerald said last year he supported delaying funding for portions of the implementation of Common Core standards. The bill passed in the Senate, but not the House.
    "We have Common Core," he said.
    Fitzgerald said the implementation of the standards have been botched nationwide.
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