Apr 28, 2021 1:00 AM

Republicans in Kan. Legislature look to override governor's vetoes

Posted Apr 28, 2021 1:00 AM
Gov. Laura Kelly struck down multiple bills with her veto pen, and Republicans are aiming to overturn those vetoes as soon as next week. Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service
Gov. Laura Kelly struck down multiple bills with her veto pen, and Republicans are aiming to overturn those vetoes as soon as next week. Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

By ABIGAIL CENSKY & STEPHEN KORANDA
Kansas News Service

TOPEKA â€” Kansas lawmakers return to the Statehouse next week for a showdown with Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly over issues at the heart of both culture wars and taxes.

While legislators took a break, Kelly vetoed a range of high-profile bills. Now the conservative Republicans who control the Legislature face the challenge of overrides with slim margins to pull that off.

Republican Senate President Ty Masterson blasted the governor for striking down bills ranging from tax cuts to restrictions on transgender athletes.

“Republicans will respond to the governor’s veto-a-rama with a veto-override-a-rama when we return in May,” Masterson said in a statement.

Here are four of the top policies that lawmakers may clash over.

A tidal wave of trans athlete bans

Echoing a wave of bills in more than 30 states, Kansas Republicans passed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.” The bill would ban people identified as male at birth from playing on women’s or girls’ teams. The bill doesn’t address people identified as female at birth playing on men’s or boys’ teams.

The proposed law was swiftly vetoed by Kelly. She deemed the legislation a “devastating message that Kansas is not welcoming to all children and their families” and said that it may harm the state’s ability to “attract and retain businesses.”

Following her veto, Republican leaders in the Legislature issued their own statement lambasting the veto. They said the bill is only about fairness and “not about anything else other than that” and pledged to continue to fight “until this bill becomes law.”

However, Republicans face an uphill battle in whipping enough votes to override Kelly’s veto. It takes 84 votes in the House and 27 in the Senate to overturn her veto.

Lawmakers need eight more votes in the House and one additional vote in the Senate.

Whether Republicans dig their heels in during the veto session remains to be seen. A recent NPR/PBS Newshour/ Marist poll reported that just 29% of Republicans nationally said they would support a bill banning transgender athletes from playing on a team that matches their gender identity.

However, while a majority of adults surveyed said they oppose legislating a ban on transgender athletes playing on teams that match their gender identity, there is a stark partisan divide between the opinions of Democrats and Republicans on the matter.

The poll reports three quarters of Democrats would be in favor of transgender athletes playing on teams that match their gender identity in high school while 81% of Republicans are against it.

Concealed carry for teens

After the session adjourned, Kelly also vetoed a bill that would let people from other states with permits to carry a concealed weapon have those permits honored in Kansas. More notably, it lowers the age of eligibility for a concealed carry permit from 21 to 18.

In a statement explaining her veto Kelly said, “Legislation that allows more guns on campus is neither safe nor effective, and it will drive prospective students away from our schools.”

Kansas already allows most people over 21 to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, but the bill would allow younger people to carry concealed guns if they get a state license.

Critics of the bill including gun-violence prevention group Moms Demand Action, praised Kelly’s veto. But Masterson said Kelly vetoed Second Amendment rights.

To override Kelly’s veto, Republicans need to pick up four votes in the House and could lose three in the Senate while still overriding.

Tackling tax cuts

Republicans took another swing at tax cuts this year. Their plan would benefit businesses with international divisions and help individual filers with changes like a larger standard deduction. But doing so would cost the state tax revenue.

Just like in past attempts, Kelly knocked the bill down with her veto pen. She raised concerns about the cost, pegged at several hundred million dollars in the coming years, and hinted at budget deficits the state saw after tax cuts in 2012 when Republican Sam Brownback was governor.

“We cannot return to the era of perennial, self-inflicted budget crises,” Kelly said in a statement announcing her veto.

But lawmakers in the conservative GOP Statehouse majority think this year they may have the votes to override the governor’s action after picking up seats in the 2020 election.

The tax plan passed the Senate with enough votes to override a veto, but would need three additional supporters in the House.

K-12 funding arithmetic

Conservative lawmakers tied billions of dollars in school funding to a proposal that would let some struggling students use state funding to attend a private school.

Critics of the idea said that would hold school funding hostage to get leverage for the policy proposals. Voting against the private school provisions would also mean voting against the budget for Kansas schools.

Ultimately, that’s exactly what happened. The bill narrowly failed in the House.

But conservatives argued it makes sense to mix policy changes with funding for public schools if it gives some students access to more educational options.

In the final days of the session, lawmakers will either have to craft a new bill that mixes policy proposals with funding, or simplify the equation and propose a bill that just funds Kansas education without policy changes.

Abigail Censky is the political reporter for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @AbigailCensky or email her at [email protected] Stephen Koranda is the Statehouse reporter and news editor for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @Stephen_Koranda.