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Brownback's 'unprecedented' pardon gives clemency to 1994 theft convict

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Posted at 9:32 AM, Oct 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-10 13:09:29-04

TOPEKA, Kan. -- Gov. Sam Brownback signed an executive pardon Tuesday giving clemency to a man convicted of felony theft back in 1994. The move was the first time a Republican governor of Kansas has issued a pardon in modern political history.

Mark Schmitt, a 19-year-old at the time, served probation and paid restitution for a false insurance claim totalling just over $1,500, the governor's office said. Schmitt, of Parker, Colorado, is a Liberal native who was convicted while living as a college student in Ottawa. 

The governor's office said Schmitt's record has been expunged.

Schmitt applied for a pardon from former Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson, but the paperwork was lost, said the statement from Brownback's office. Parkinson left office in 2011.

Also Tuesday, Brownback denied 72 other requests for clemency. 

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Earlier in October, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback told a senate committee in Washington D.C. he supports the United States accepting foreigners fleeing religious oppression.

President Donald Trump nominated the Republican to serve as the country’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

Wednesday morning, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a confirmation hearing for Brownback. 

The governor pledged to approach the position from a non-partisan viewpoint. He said building religious tolerance will decrease violence across the globe. He also called freedom of religion a fundamental right the United States “should stand for and defend.”

The ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom serves in the State Department, and is charged with advocating for religious liberty across the world. 

Committee member Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia argued some countries use religion to persecute members of the LGBT community. He asked Brownback why he ended a Kansas law that barred the state from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity when it hired new employees. 

Brownback replied that the Democratic governor at that time, Kathleen Sebelius, acted unilaterally on an issue that state lawmakers should have resolved. He repealed her executive order. 

LGBT-rights groups have decried Brownback's nomination because of his conservative views on issues such as same-sex marriage.

New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen followed up with how some countries use religion as a reason to deny women access to certain healthcare and contraceptive options. 

Brownback argued his role as ambassador should focus strictly on religion. 

“This is an important position not to get into the difficult debate points in the United States,” he said. “I pledge to you to stay there, in my lane, on a bipartisan basis.”

Shaheen also asked whether the country should accept refugees escaping religious oppression in their countries.

“I think we should accept people fleeing religious persecution. I used to do a lot of this work, helping people persecuted by various countries for their faith to get to the United States and help them when they would resettle in my state,” Brownback explained.

In terms of protecting the rights of Muslims in the United States, Brownback said he would work with any group to protect all.

“That's wrong. It should not take place. I will stand up and fight for those communities as I have in the past. I will do that in the future,” he said.

Committee members did not announce when they’ll vote on Brownback’s nomination. If he receives approval, Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer will take over as Kansas governor until the November 2018 election. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.