Government & Politics

KC leader says NCAA, Big 12 worried about Missouri ‘religious freedom’ bill

Fans enjoyed the view of downtown Kansas City from the Sprint Center during the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament in this March 2015 file photo. City Manager Troy Schulte says the city could lose the tournament and other events if a “religious freedom” amendment were added to the Missouri Constitution. Such a measure, which would allow certain businesses and organizations to refuse services to same-sex couples based on religious beliefs, has been proposed in the General Assembly.
Fans enjoyed the view of downtown Kansas City from the Sprint Center during the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament in this March 2015 file photo. City Manager Troy Schulte says the city could lose the tournament and other events if a “religious freedom” amendment were added to the Missouri Constitution. Such a measure, which would allow certain businesses and organizations to refuse services to same-sex couples based on religious beliefs, has been proposed in the General Assembly. along@kcstar.com

The NCAA and the Big 12 Conference are signaling concern about a proposed “religious freedom” amendment to Missouri’s Constitution, Kansas City Manager Troy Schulte said Friday in an interview with KCSP-AM.

Schulte said the city’s hopes of hosting future sporting events could be dashed if the amendment becomes law.

Republicans in the state Senate on Thursday approved a measure that would put to public vote an amendment that, if approved, would allow certain businesses and organizations to refuse services to same-sex couples based on religious beliefs.

Democrats vehemently opposed the legislation, which they said would enshrine discrimination in the constitution. Democrats blocked a vote for 39 hours, but the bill was passed and sent to the House.

If approved in the House, the proposed amendment would bypass Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto and go to a statewide vote later this year.

Schulte said the situation worries local officials, who already have heard from some major organizations with events scheduled in Kansas City.

“We’ve heard from the NCAA,” Schulte said. “There’s been some conversations with the Big 12. We’ve had some contacts with the figure skating association.” The U.S. Figure Skating Championships, sponsored by the U.S. Figure Skating Association, are scheduled for Jan. 14-22 at the Sprint Center.

The Big 12 men’s basketball tournament, which Kansas City will host the next four years, brings in $13 million in revenue for the city, Schulte said. The figure skating championships are expected anticipated to fill 20,000 hotel rooms throughout the metropolitan area.

“There’s no reason why, if we passed this legislation, the Big 12 couldn’t come to us and say, ‘We no longer think you’re a welcoming environment. We’re going to pull it and go to Oklahoma City or Dallas,’ ” Schulte said.

In a statement, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said the conference and its member universities “support the rights of all individuals regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation.”

“It is acknowledged that elected officials enact laws they believe reflect the desires of their constituents,” Bowlsby said. “However, as a conference, we will consider the impact of the Missouri legislature’s action on current and future Big 12 events within the state.”

Schulte also noted that Kansas City hopes to again host a Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Earlier this month, MLB announced a partnership with the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce to encourage businesses with at least 51 percent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual leadership to become official suppliers of the league.

When Indiana passed a “religious freedom” bill last year, it drew immediate outcry from the NCAA, which has its headquarters in Indianapolis, and from NASCAR. The state eventually repealed the legislation, but Indianapolis estimates it lost $60 million in convention and tourism business because of the controversy.

Supporters say the Missouri proposal is more narrow, focusing exclusively on same-sex weddings and protecting businesses such as florists and bakeries that don’t want to serve gay couples.

Schulte said the Missouri bill would be more difficult to repeal because it is a constitutional amendment. If it is approved by voters, the only way to remove it from the constitution would be to ask voters to repeal it.

“It could be devastating from an economic impact standpoint,” he said. “That’s a lot of jobs. That’s a lot of tourism. That’s a lot of people that are not from the city spending money in the city. And if those events go away because there’s a perception that Missouri and Kansas City are no longer welcoming for these types of events, it’ll have a dramatic economic impact on the city as a whole.”

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @j_hancock

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