GOP leader pushes controversial bill and violates First Amendment rights. Avoid personal attacks.

Kansas Representative Brenda Landwehr has been actively attempting to evade the repercussions of her decision to endorse a bill that specifically targets transgender children.

I will take Landwehr’s statement at face value, although its credibility may be questionable.

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While a person’s heart may possess virtuous and kind qualities, it does not possess the ability to deliberate on bills or cast votes. It does not seek election or assume the role of Chair in the House Committee on Health and Human Services. Nor does it disregard the explicit text outlined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The totality of a person goes beyond their heart, encompassing their intellectual faculties as well.

D.C. Hiegert, from the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, expressed surprise during a recent episode of the Kansas Reflector podcast. Hiegert stated, “We were surprised. We’re hearing that some representatives on the committee were surprised. And so if that’s the way that the people’s house has been run, it’s really hard to say that it is a house for the people and that they’re doing work for Kansans. Because it’s clear in the past two weeks, what’s gone on with just this bill has shown that’s not the case.”

Hiegert was among those who were forced to leave the hearing on February 29 due to the weakest of excuses.

Please watch the following video:
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Silencing speech

The footage from the February hearing featuring Landwehr received a strong and heated response.

I’ve gathered some interesting comments from the TikTok community. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

“Absolutely no compassion or empathy.”

According to critics, all of her rules infringe upon the protesters’ rights to protest and exercise their freedom of speech.

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

“When one is aware of their own egregious mistake, they may resort to invoking their perceived authority in order to suppress any further discourse.”

In my previous column about Landwehr, I primarily focused on her outrageous behavior and the individuals she singled out. However, I failed to address an important aspect of the incident – the violation of the First Amendment and the right to free expression. After discussing the matter with media lawyer Max Kautsch, it became evident that the chairwoman had likely exceeded her authority.

According to an email response, the speaker explains that when the Legislature holds hearings, it establishes a “limited public forum” protected by the First Amendment. In this type of forum, speakers cannot be removed unless their speech causes an “actual disruption.” The speaker argues that since there is no evidence that the removed speakers caused any such disruption during the hearing, their removal was unconstitutional.

In a 2013 9th Circuit case, Kautsch provided further insight into the concept of an “actual disruption.” The court determined that a public commenter had caused an “actual disruption” by directly engaging with the audience and urging them to stand in support of his position.

Those in the room and those watching online witnessed a completely different scene. Instead of witnessing a spectacle, they observed passionate advocates and ordinary individuals actively engaging in the democratic process, expressing their emotions and thoughts. It was evident that their words were intended to evoke a sense of moral responsibility within committee members.

Feeling uncomfortable doesn’t necessarily mean that things are falling apart.

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

The lawyer pointed out that the chairwoman’s dislike for certain speech did not give her the authority to suppress it. Additionally, the lawyer noted 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 committee guidelines.

I want to clarify that I reached out to Landwehr for comment prior to my previous column. Following its publication, she expressed some interest in speaking with me. However, my attempts to arrange a conversation via email were met with no response.

Capitol Police vehicles were parked in front of the Statehouse in 2023 as a precautionary measure. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Other threats

The First Amendment holds great significance, as do the various other norms that Landwehr disregarded and the measures she took to silence the LGBTQ+ community in Kansas.

During the February 29 hearing, she issued a warning, stating that if anyone were to disregard her instructions, they would be asked to leave or escorted out by the uniformed personnel present.

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

According to Sharon Brett, the legal director at the ACLU of Kansas, Capitol Police have extensive authority to respond to what they perceive as a security issue. This includes taking direction from lawmakers who have their own concerns. Brett argues that it is essential to examine legislators’ decisions to involve the police when there is no genuine public safety justification. She believes that such actions are authoritarian and serve to silence dissent.

Micah Kubic, the executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, provided a broader and crucial perspective.

According to him, this example showcases the significant influence possessed by lawmakers who oversee committees. They have the authority to determine which bills are considered, which bills receive a vote, and who is allowed to voice their opinions in the hearing room.

“Should we consider it an abuse of power to employ the Capitol Police as a means to suppress or intimidate individuals from Kansas whose perspectives we may not align with?” Kubic raised the question. “Is it concerning to send a message to those who genuinely wish to share their stories, indicating that they could be humiliated or escorted out by the Capitol Police merely because a committee chair disagrees with them? Ultimately, it is up to the people of Kansas to determine and hold their elected representatives responsible for their actions.”

Open debate

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

“I prefer engaging in open and honest discussions where calmness prevails,” she expressed on Thursday. “I always encourage individuals to remain receptive and open-minded.”

As an opinion editor at Kansas Reflector, I thoroughly enjoy engaging in open and honest debates. While I may not be easily swayed by calm discussions, I understand the importance of listening to well-intentioned arguments from various perspectives in public policy debates.

The discussion surrounding the experiences of transgender individuals and the concept of children transitioning has garnered significant attention and sparked widespread debate. Many engage in these conversations out of genuine curiosity, and through these exchanges, minds can be changed and progress towards equality can be made.

LGBTQ+ individuals have faced discrimination, harassment, and marginalization. However, we refuse to be silenced when our lives and the lives of our loved ones are in jeopardy.

Clay Wirestone serves as the opinion editor for Kansas Reflector. Kansas Reflector aims to uplift the voices of individuals impacted by public policies and those who are often left out of public discourse. For more details, including guidelines on how to submit your own commentary, please click here.

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