Daily Archives: Jan. 8, 2013

Voting rights takes center stage at legislative forum

The state’s voter identification law came under fire Tuesday night at a legislative forum where ordinary citizens got a chance to tell lawmakers what they want from the session that begins next week.

The open-mike session drew a crowd of about 100, about 40 of whom chose to speak on a variety of issues ranging from abortion to fluoridated water to police brutality.

But the 25 lawmakers who attended the forum heard the most about dissatisfaction with the voting law they passed in 2011 at the request of Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Kobach contends that photo ID and proof of citizenship are necessary to prevent voter fraud by immigrants legal and illegal.

But resident Bryan Mann told the lawmakers that the real purpose of the voter ID law is to suppress Democratic-leaning voter groups – especially minorities and the elderly – to cement Republican domination of state government.

He drew loud cheers after he called the law “nothing more than partisan gamesmanship and a watered down Jim Crow law,” referring to the pre-civil-rights statutes used in southern states to deny voting privileges to black people.

In last year’s elections, for the first time, all Kansas voters were required to show photo ID when they voted at the polls.

This year, a new provision takes effect requiring that new voting registrants provide proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate or passport.

Opponents say that part of the law causes confusion for voters and essentially makes it impossible for groups to hold voter registration drives.

“Would you turn your personal information, such as your Social Security number or a copy of your birth certificate, over to a complete stranger?” said Esau Freeman. “This is what Kris Kobach has tricked you into passing. It’s a law that won’t allow the Republican Party or the Democratic Party or anybody to go and register first-time voters without being able to put that documentation up front.”

Kobach has previously recommended that groups that want to register voters could help fill out the registration forms and let the prospective voters send them in themselves after they gather the needed documents.

Lawmakers did not speak to issues raised by the public during the meeting. But later, several acknowledged the pushback against the voter ID law and said it may need a second look when they get to Topeka.

“I think a lot of people have serious concerns about making it harder to vote,” said Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, who opposed the law when it passed. “Whether our extremely conservative friends will hear that is the question.”

Two local Wichita Republican representatives who voted for the law, Les Osterman and Dennis Hedke, said they think some amendments might be in order if people really are finding it very difficult to obtain the documents they need to register to vote.

“I will be looking at it to see what effect it will have on the citizens,” Osterman said.

While he paid $14 and it took two weeks to acquire his birth certificate from Wyoming, Osterman said other people might have bigger problems getting the documents from other states.

“I’m listening to what they (the law’s opponents) have to say and taking into consideration what they have to say,” he said.

Hedke added that “with all the comments, we need to study it more carefully. There may be some justification for amendments to the law.”

However, he said he won’t advocate to change it unless someone supplies hard evidence that it’s putting an unreasonable burden on voters.

“I think suggesting we’re causing many, many people not to have the ability to vote is an incorrect assessment of the law,” he said.

Kansans for Life launches petition drive against abortion clinic plan

Rep. Les Osterman, R-Wichita, signs a petition asking local government agencies to rezone the site of the former clinic of abortion provider George Tiller, to prevent a women’s group from opening a new clinic to provide abortion services there.

The state’s most powerful anti-abortion group will be petitioning the Wichita City Council and the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission in an effort to prevent a women’s group from opening a clinic to provide abortions at the site of the former medical practice of murdered abortion provider George Tiller.

Kansans for Life will ask the commission and council to rezone the property in an effort to thwart the reopening of the clinic by a group called the Trust Women (and Change the World) Foundation.

The foundation is planning to offer abortion services as part of a women’s clinic at 5107 E. Kellogg.

The site has been idle since June 2009, shortly after Tiller was shot to death at his church by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder. Roeder, a resident of the Kansas City area, was convicted of murder and is serving a life sentence.

The effort to reopen the clinic is being led by Julie Burkhart, a former Tiller employee who heads the women’s foundation. The group purchased the clinic building from Tiller’s widow in September and has indicated through its web site that contractors are remodeling the interior.

In a written statement issued Tuesday night, Burkhart said: “This effort is yet another attempt to limit access to reproductive health care for the women of Wichita and Kansas.  Regardless of their actions, we will continue to bring quality and comprehensive obstetrics and gynecological services to Wichita.”

Troy Newman, who heads the Wichita-based anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, has registered the name Trust Women Foundation Inc. with the Secretary of State’s office. Newman, who strongly opposes efforts to reopen the clinic, declined comment when asked why he had registered essentially the same name as the group that is planning to do that.

On Tuesday, Kansans for Life held a news conference and rally on the steps of the Sedgwick County Courthouse to publicize its petition drive.

In attendance were about 60 abortion opponents and several current and future state legislators who signed the petition, including Sen.-elect Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita.

“Kansans are going to be protected from conception until natural death and that’s our No. 1 goal,” O’Donnell said.

“As a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Bible tells us not to abort children, we’re supposed to raise them and encourage them,” added Rep. Les Osterman, R-Wichita. “So we need to stop the killing of innocent babies … There’s other ways that women can do and things they can do rather than have that happen.”

Resident Anna Myers said her grandparents came to Wichita as survivors of the Nazi Holocaust and that she considers herself a “survivor of the American Holocaust” of abortion.

She said the presence of the Tiller clinic had brought embarrassment instead of pride to the city of Wichita.

“We’re glad that era has ended,” she said. “No more violence against people inside or outside the womb; no more babies being butchered, no more women being injured and no more abortionists being killed.”

David Gittrich, Development Director for Kansans for Life, said the presence of the Tiller clinic had caused disruption for the neighborhood and that rezoning the new clinic out would protect the quiet atmosphere that has developed since the clinic closed.

After the news conference, he acknowledged that much of the disturbance had been a result of the actions of anti-abortion groups, including his.

But he said it was justifiable and inevitable that reopening the clinic would bring back the protests.

“There’s been people on both sides who have gotten out of line,” he said. “The main point is the abortion industry attracts a huge crowd of people opposed to it. It would be the same thing as if people were opposed to slavery and showed up at a slave market to say they were opposed to it.”

He said Kansans for Life will continue to protest if the clinic opens.

“We like families and children, not places where they go to be killed,” Gittrich said.

Gittrich said the group will collect signatures through Jan. 22, the day of the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established women’s right to an abortion.

The signatures will be presented to the Planning Commission on Jan. 24 and to the City Council on Jan. 29, Gittrich said.