Saying the Kansas legislature is the best venue for addressing discrimination issues, the Overland Park City Council on Monday affirmed its support of an anti-discrimination bill recently introduced in Topeka. However if the bill fails, Overland Park leaders vow to bring their own non-discrimination resolution up for discussion.
The city became the latest in Johnson County to consider whether to formalize protections for LGBTQ residents. Mission, Merriam, Prairie Village, and in 2014, Roeland Park have all approved non-discrimination measures. But unlike Overland Park, the other cities enacted ordinances that work at the municipal level.
Overland Park took a different path with its resolution, which signaled Kansas’s second-largest city’s support for a change in state law proposed by the two first openly LGBTQ members of the Kansas legislature, Reps. Susan Ruiz and Brandon Woodard, both of the Shawnee Mission area.
The state is in a better position to enforce discrimination issues than cities, said Mayor Carl Gerlach on Monday. With a state anti-discrimination law in place, victims could sue for damages. But the most a city can do with an ordinance is levy a fine, Gerlach said.
The measure approved Monday puts the city on record against discrimination by sexual orientation. But it would have to be revisited if state lawmakers don’t approve their non-discrimination bill. In that case, the council would have to come back and devise some mechanism for enforcement, he said.
Council members at a committee of the whole meeting indicated they were willing to do that. Councilmember Curt Skoog offered to bring it before the council’s community development committee, which he chairs.
A non-discrimination bill in the statehouse has potential this year. The bills in the House and Senate have 53 sponsors, and Gov. Laura Kelly has reinstated protections for LGBTQ citizens that were eliminated by former Gov. Sam Brownback. But there is opposition. After the bills were introduced, opponents put forward one that would label same-sex marriages “parody” marriages and seek to stop the state from recognizing them.
Council members expressed no reservations about the non-discrimination measure.
“I think it’s great that a city of our size and magnitude in Kansas as the second largest city – it says a lot by doing this,” said Councilmember Chris Newlin.
Gerlach said there are a lot of questions about the kinds of ordinances that have been passed by other cities, including whether such ordinances are even legal. But approving an ordinance without some way to enforce it is “not the way we work,” he said.
“Hopefully we all agree that we want to get rid of all discrimination in our city,” he said.