Two bills not likely to fly very far this session


By Steve Haynes, columnist

A couple of bills in the Kansas Legislature have drawn attention. One might pass – it would make it a crime to sleep on public land without permission – but the other – to legalize medical marijuana – almost certainly won’t.

There are people who are homeless because of bad luck, a shaky economy, loss of a job, what have you. Call them victims of the system. They deserve whatever help the state and Christian charity can provide, especially a place to live.

They likely are a minority of those living on the streets, but no one seems to know. Most sleeping on the streets suffer from mental-health issues that are not as easily treated. Until half a century ago, a judge could order someone who needed treatment to a state hospital, where that person might be held forever. 

Society was happy not to have to deal with them. State hospitals, crowded as they were, had to take them in. Families, unable to deal with their behavior, often backed the courts. You could see them by the ward, catatonic, drugged, moaning in corners, sometimes restrained. 

Nothing pretty.

Eventually the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could not confine adults who wanted to be free. Thousands were discharged. Being homeless and rejecting the rules of polite society was no longer a reason to be locked up, absent a showing that the person was not a danger to society.

Many moved to they streets. They rejected life in an institution, whether a state hospital or a shelter, often as not because these places all have rules: no drugs or alcohol, required attendance at services, no smoking, look for a job, you name it.

On the street, they could make their own rules.

That does not mean they do not need or deserve food, shelter and treatment, just that these things almost always come with strings attached. Rules. It’s not an easy sell.

Banning sleeping in ravines, public parks and sidewalks won’t solve this problem, but there is a good argument that streets, sidewalks and parks belong to everyone and should not be usurped.

One strike against this bill is that the only supporter to testify was a paid staffer of the out-of-state “think tank” that wrote the bill. All the opposition came from a flock of do-gooders, who offered no real solutions, either.

Then there is a bill to make “medicinal marijuana” legal. Opponents say this is just the nose of the camel under the tent flap, which it is. Proponents say it would greatly help those with chronic pain and be better for them than opioid drugs, which may be true as well.

The real issue is, when Kansas will legalize marijuana. Anyone who thinks this will happen soon in a state that pioneered prohibition of alcohol and did not finish repeal until 1984, well, that’s just a pipe dream.

The Senate seems set to block this bill once again, though it passed the House once.

We lost the “War on Drugs” years ago. It wasn’t winable, and clinging to a prohibition mindset won’t change that. But people and politicians cling to cherished beliefs. Even if the facts don’t support them.

Editor’s note: Columnist Steve Haynes is a former president of the Kansas Press Association and former publisher of Nor’West Newspapers.