GOP leader forcefully passes controversial bill, suppressing the First Amendment, but refrain from attributing hatred

Kansas Representative Brenda Landwehr has made every effort to evade accountability for her support of a bill that specifically targets transgender children.

In a surprising abuse of power, she shocked the state’s most prominent LGBTQ+ activists by ejecting them during a hearing held late last month. Adding to the controversy, a surprise committee meeting was conducted on Thursday, where democratic processes were bypassed. They accomplished this by placing House Bill 2791 into the shell of Senate Bill 233. The bill, which prohibits gender-affirming care for individuals under 18, was subsequently passed.

I’ll take Landwehr’s statement with a grain of salt, as its credibility is questionable at best.

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While a person’s heart may embody virtues and kindness, it does not possess the ability to deliberate on bills or cast votes. It cannot participate in an election or assume the role of chair in the House Committee on Health and Human Services. Furthermore, a person’s heart cannot disregard the explicit content outlined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It is the entirety of a person, encompassing both their heart and intellect, that influences their decisions and actions.

D.C. Hiegert, a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, expressed surprise during an episode of the Kansas Reflector podcast. Hiegert and other committee members were taken aback by the way the people’s house was being run. This raises doubts about whether the house truly represents the people and is working in the best interest of Kansans. The recent events surrounding this bill have clearly demonstrated that this is not the case.

Hiegert was among the individuals who were expelled from the hearing on February 29th for the most trivial of reasons.

By inserting the text of HB 2791 into a previously passed Senate bill, Landwehr’s committee has effectively limited the options of other legislators. If the House approves the bill, the Senate will not have the ability to make any amendments to it. Instead, members will be forced to either accept or reject the bill in its entirety. This procedural maneuver ensures a smooth path for hate, as lawmakers will encounter minimal opposition from their constituents.

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Rep.  Brenda Landwehr chairs Health and Human Services Committee on Feb. 29, 2024

Silencing speech

The footage from the February hearing featuring Landwehr generated a strong and heated reaction.

I created a short video highlighting the representative, and it quickly caught the attention of viewers on various social media platforms. From Facebook to Twitter, YouTube to TikTok, people instantly grasped the purpose behind her actions. While some reactions were excessively vulgar and lacked decorum, others raised valid points.

I came across some interesting comments from the TikTok community that I’d like to share with you. Let’s dive into what people are saying.

“He lacks any compassion or empathy.”

“Do these individuals not realize that they are public servants? The public is not their children.”

“When you find yourself in such a glaringly wrong position that the only way to avoid scrutiny is by suppressing any further conversation.”

In my previous column about Landwehr, I mainly focused on her outrageous behavior and the individuals she targeted. However, I failed to address the issue of the First Amendment and free expression. It was brought to my attention by some readers that the chairwoman may have exceeded her authority. Upon further discussion with media lawyer Max Kautsch, it became evident that Landwehr had likely overstepped her bounds.

According to an email response I received, the speaker explains that when the Legislature holds its hearings, it establishes a “limited public forum” protected by the First Amendment. Therefore, individuals speaking in this forum cannot be removed unless their speech causes an actual disruption. Since there is no evidence that the speakers who were removed during the hearing caused any actual disruption, their removal was deemed unconstitutional.

In a 2013 9th Circuit case, Kautsch highlighted the notion of a genuine disruption. The court determined that a public commenter had caused an “actual disruption” by actively engaging with the audience and encouraging them to stand in support of his position.

In this scenario, both the individuals present in the room and the ones watching online didn’t witness anything remotely similar. Instead, what they witnessed were advocates and ordinary individuals actively engaging in the democratic process and expressing their emotions. It is true that their words were intended to evoke a sense of moral responsibility among committee members.

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Feeling uncomfortable does not necessarily mean that there will be a major disruption.

According to Kautsch, stating that the Legislature has “blood on its hands” in a government-designated forum for expression is not considered an “actual disruption.”

The lawyer pointed out that the chairwoman’s personal dislike for certain speech did not give her the authority to silence it. He also highlighted that she did not have the right to remove individuals for accidentally knocking over a water bottle. It seems that Landwehr’s impromptu rules before the hearing contradicted the official guidelines set by the committee.

It is important to mention that I reached out to Landwehr for comment prior to my previous column. Following its publication, she expressed some interest in having a conversation. However, my attempts to schedule that discussion through emails went unanswered.

Capitol Police vehicles were parked in front of the Statehouse in 2023 as a precautionary measure.

Other threats

The importance of the First Amendment cannot be overstated, and it is crucial to acknowledge the disregard for other norms that Landwehr demonstrated as she wielded her power to silence the LGBTQ+ community in Kansas.

It is unfortunate, but it seems to be the case.

According to Sharon Brett, the legal director at the ACLU of Kansas, the Capitol Police possess extensive authority to address what they perceive as a “security” matter. This authority could potentially involve following instructions from lawmakers who may have their own concerns. Brett emphasizes the importance of examining legislators’ decisions to utilize their power to summon a police response, particularly when there is no genuine public safety justification. Such actions can be seen as authoritarian and have the consequence of stifling opposition.

Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, offered a broader and essential perspective.

According to the speaker, this example highlights the significant influence that committee lawmakers possess in determining which bills are given attention, which bills are put to a vote, and who is allowed to participate in the hearing room.

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Open debate

Landwehr and I are in agreement on one thing, at least.

“I prefer engaging in open and honest debates that maintain a sense of calm,” she expressed on Thursday. “I encourage everyone involved to approach these discussions with open ears.”

As the opinion editor of Kansas Reflector, I appreciate and enjoy engaging in open and honest debates. While I may not always be swayed by calm arguments, I believe it is important for all of us to listen to well-intentioned viewpoints from various sides when it comes to discussions about public policy.

The discussion around the experience of transgender individuals and the concept of children transitioning has gained significant attention and sparked curiosity among many. These conversations have the potential to foster understanding and promote equality.

There is a significant distinction between having a casual conversation over coffee and the actions taken by Landwehr and her committee. Instead of engaging with the actual experiences and difficulties faced by transgender individuals, and considering how public policy could enhance their lives, their debates revolve around questioning the very existence and validity of these individuals.

Banning gender-affirming care doesn’t foster meaningful discourse; instead, it stifles conversation and sends a direct message to trans Kansans: You’re not welcome here. More unsettlingly, there’s a lingering sense that some in the Legislature are eager to further roll back LGBTQ+ rights. Bills like HB 2791 and SB 233 pave the way for increased persecution. It’s crucial to note that, under Kansas statute, merely being gay remains a criminal offense.

Anthony Alvarez, a Loud Light fellow, highlighted the issue on our podcast, emphasizing, “It’s evident they just don’t want trans people around. Every trans adult was, at some point, a transsexual child. I’ve never spoken to a trans person who didn’t experience discomfort with their body during puberty. Despite claiming to protect children’s choices, it’s clear they aim to suppress this choice, even in adulthood.”

LGBTQ+ individuals have faced expulsion, mistreatment, exclusion, and neglect. However, in the face of the threat to our lives and the lives of our families, we refuse to be silenced.

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