Kan. Senate leader: Discrimination bill needs work

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 14, 2014 at 2:59 pm •  Published: February 14, 2014
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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate will not pass a bill in its current form that would prevent lawsuits against someone who refuses, for religious reasons, to provide services to gays and lesbians, the chamber's president said Friday.

Senate President Susan Wagle said the bill, which was approved Wednesday in the Kansas House, goes beyond protecting religious freedom. She raised concerns about how the measure could impact businesses that would refuse services to gay couples.

"I believe the intent of the House was to protect religious liberties. We respect that, but the business implications are going to harm the practice of employment in Kansas," said Wagle, a Wichita Republican.

The measure would prohibit government sanctions or lawsuits over faith-based refusals to recognize same-sex unions or to provide goods, services, accommodations or employment benefits to couples.

The House's passage of the measure prompted strong reactions across the country and from several businesses organizations and employers in Kansas, including AT&T, who issued statements urging legislators to stop the measure or rework it. The businesses said the provisions would hurt them and in some cases place them at odds with their own nondiscrimination policies.

What Wagle said she wants to see emerging from the Senate is a measure that removes the language extending protections to individual state and local government employees, allowing them because of religious beliefs to refuse to provide services, such as fire and police protection, in certain circumstances to gays and lesbians.

"Public service needs to remain public service for the entire public," she said.

House Speaker Ray Merrick said he has spoken with Wagle about working on new language, and noted the intent of the measure was never to discriminate but to protect religious liberties.

"The system is working," said Merrick, a Stilwell Republican. "They're going to make the changes they want."

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