Kansas’ ‘Sanctuary Cities’ law creates issues for municipalities wanting to create ID programs

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A bill prohibiting the use of municipal IDs was introduced by the Kansas Attorney General's office during the 2022 legislative session.
Kansas News Service/File photo

The bill was introduced by the Kansas Attorney General’s office in response to the ‘Safe and Welcoming Act’ that was passed in Wyandotte County earlier this year.

The “sanctuary cities” bill that was passed during this year’s legislative session is causing issues for some municipalities — including Wichita.

Soon to become a state law, the bill also says municipal ID cards cannot be used as a valid form of state identification. That has stalled the city of Wichita’s plans to create a municipal ID program to assist those who don’t have state-issued identification.

“If it ain’t broke, the Legislature will fix it until it’s broke,” said Mayor Brandon Whipple, a former legislator. “They were trying to play politics with a federal level issue and the casualty is they robbed us and other cities of our ability to respond to the needs of our public.”

The bill was introduced by the Kansas Attorney General’s office in response to the "Safe and Welcoming Act" that was passed in Wyandotte County earlier this year.

The act blocked local police from cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities unless there is a public safety emergency or they have a warrant signed by a judge.

It also helped those without legal identification receive a municipal ID to obtain services where identification would be required — such as going to the bank or receiving medical care.

During testimony for the bill, proponents said the way state statute was written would have allowed those who aren’t able to legally vote to try to use municipal IDs at the polls.

That includes Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who’s running for governor.

“I’m just saying it’s an obvious loophole in the statute,” Schmidt said, “and we suggested fixing it, and the secretary of state suggested fixing it more explicitly, and that’s the bill that you have in front of you.”

Municipal IDs through the city of Wichita would have been issued by the city’s libraries — some of which already serve as passport centers.

Now the plan has stalled and will likely have an impact on the unhoused, elderly or younger people who don’t or can’t drive, as well as survivors of domestic violence.

“Isolation is a very common tool used by batterers and perpetrators to subject and control their victims and keep them from seeking services, seeking help,” Lindsie Ford with the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence said during testimony against the bill.

If the city were able to issue identification, survivors who had their property taken away or bank accounts locked by their abuser could have gotten help.

“Under this, we could have actually gotten you an ID by going to the library,” Whipple said, “and then you would have had access to open a bank account, to go ahead and get to our Section 8 program so that you can get affordable housing even though your abuser took the money.”

Unhoused people also struggle to receive legal identification if they don’t have documentation like a birth certificate or Social Security card. That makes it difficult for them to receive some services such as housing or food.

“You have to have something to get something; you have to be able to prove who you are,” said Alleshia Benward with Breakthrough Episcopal Services.

Benward said not having identification is an issue her clients face every day — including a client she recently worked with to obtain their driver's license.

“Both the shelter and us working on this step, and the email I just got from the shelter case manager was, ‘We achieved the impossible!’ " Benward said.
"People . . . (whose) days are designated to doing these steps, for us to perceive it as impossible tells you how many barriers there are.”

The many barriers to receive state-issued identification is an issue everyone should be concerned about," Benward said.

“It’s really easy for just about anybody to lose their identification," she said. "So it applies to all of us to have accessible ways to regain that.”

For now, Whipple said the city is doing more research to try to help those who need identification and get the services they need – but the outlook is grim.

“I really wish that this wasn’t a partisan issue like it was,” Whipple said, “because getting access to the services that a victim of domestic violence, that someone who is experiencing homelessness needs, that shouldn’t be partisan.”

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Kylie Cameron (she/her) is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, Kylie was a digital producer at KWCH, and served as editor in chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State. You can follow her on Twitter @bykyliecameron.