Kansas black leaders discuss legislative agenda at first meeting

TOPEKA, Kansas – The St. John’s African Methodist Episcopal Church hosted a landmark meeting Saturday.

For the first time, the Kansas Black Leadership Council met to vote as a group on which issues they’d support for the upcoming legislative session.

Approximately 100 people listened to speakers on topics from Medicaid expansion to repealing the death penalty.

After lunch, the group heard from Brandon Johnson of Wichita who is spearheading his own economic development program for “impoverished Kansas communities.”

“There are a lot of communities that are over looked, underdeveloped and ignored,” he said about the reason he proposed the program.

In paperwork provided by the KBLC, the group said it “agrees with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, that growing businesses in Kansas will help grow the state’s economy.”

The bill the KBLC supports is SB340, “The Kansas reinvestment program act.”

In all, the KBLC voted on eight items to supports. All of them, expect repealing the death penalty received unanimous “yes” votes.

There were three recorded dissenting votes for the repeal of the death penalty but the item is still on the platform for support.

Other items voted on were Medicaid expansion, preventing the “predatory practices of Payday lenders in Kansas,” repealing the voting registration laws that require proof of citizenship, body cameras for all police departments and the “Kansas Smart Justice Agenda.”

The agenda is a comprehensive reform presented by the American Civil Liberties Union that challenges the legislature to “enact” practices like expanding the use of diversion, reducing sentences for non-violent drug crimes, enhancing data collection and analysis on racial profiling and ending the use of “routine solitary confinement.”

While the KBLC members were at lunch, Micah Kubic of the ALCU spoke to them about the agenda.

That agenda in total passed unanimously.

The number of items passed unanimously speaks to the similar needs communities across Kansas have, according to KBLC president Bonita Gooch.

“I think there’s a realization of the power of coming together across communities, especially on statewide issues,” Gooch said. “I think that means we put together something our community really supports and can be behind.”

Johnson sees the need in the state as well.

“It addressed a lot of issues that effect not only the black community but the entire community,” he said. “It just effects us in a disproportionate amount.”

Now that the platform has been voted on, the KBLC leaders will finalize the draft and send it to community leaders around the state. They also plan on sending it to the entire legislature and the press.

For interested Kansans, Gooch said the final document will be available on the group’s Facebook page. She hopes the increased social media presence will bring more people to committee meetings when the bills the KBLC supports are heard.

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