by Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector
April 20, 2023
TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a slew of anti-transgender bills, several of which could involve intrusive physical examinations of adults and children to determine their reproductive traits. In response, one of the state’s top Republicans insinuated Kelly was high.
“Today being 4/20, one must question what the governor was smoking when she made this ludicrous and dangerous decision,” said House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, in response to Kelly’s veto of a jail bill that could involve sperm checking inmates.
Kelly, who announced this third round of vetoes Thursday, has repeatedly denounced legislation aimed at disenfranchising LGBTQ Kansans. She vetoed four bills that incorporated some form of a heavily criticized “women’s bill of rights.”
All of the bills are likely to be challenged on constitutional grounds if enacted.
The bills pushed by Kansas Republicans are not unique to the state. Similar legislation has appeared in Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, Iowa, Utah, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma and other states, backed by national faith-based and conservative organizations.
“It’s a sign of the times,” Kelly said during an April 18 news gaggle. “We see so much at the state level by entities, national organizations, whatever, that have an agenda that they systematically push through state legislatures.”
Kelly asked the Legislature to focus on helping Kansas businesses.
“By stripping away rights from Kansans and opening the state up to expensive and unnecessary lawsuits, these bills would hurt our ability to continue breaking economic records and landing new business deals,” Kelly said. “I’m focused on the economy. Anyone care to join me?”
Hawkins said he and other Republicans would attempt to override Kelly’s veto of the bills after the Legislature returns next week. The Kansas GOP has issued this message for all of Kelly’s vetoes.
“Women’s bill of rights”
Senate Bill 180, also called the “women’s bill of rights” bans individuals who are born without the ability to produce eggs for reproduction from using women’s restrooms, locker rooms and other gender-specific areas.
Critics have said the “women’s bill of rights” doesn’t actually give women any needed protections, such as equal pay or advancement opportunities.
The wide-ranging bill extends to athletics, prison facilities, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, locker rooms, restrooms and “other areas where biology, safety or privacy are implicated that result in separate accommodations.”
The bill also classifies people with developmental differences, including those who are intersex, as disabled.
The “women’s bill of rights” bars them from women’s spaces, but stipulates they are entitled to their own facilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act — a move LGBTQ and disability activists have called incredibly offensive.
Kansas Republicans passed the bill under the assumption that women are in danger of having their rights usurped by transgender or nonbinary individuals, though none of them have been able to point to any evidence of this happening in Kansas.
Kelly’s administration warned that the bill could also put federal funding for multiple programs at risk. Her staff sent out a list of Kansas state agency programs that focus on women and girls, many of which would have to implement ways of testing for gender if the legislation is enacted.
The list includes domestic violence and sexual assault grants governed by federal guidelines that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. According to the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, SB 180 compliance could put more than $17 million in funding to Kansas agencies at risk.
“Governor Kelly has chosen to side with left-wing activists who seek to change the definition of a woman and ignore the biological differences that exist between the sexes,” Hawkins said. “Ignoring these differences is reckless and exposes females to specific forms of violence, including sexual violence, and compromises the safety of female-only spaces such as restrooms, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers and prisons.”
The House voted 83-41 on the legislation, with the Senate concurring 28-12 to move the bill to Kelly’s desk. To override Kelly’s veto, 84 votes are needed in the House and 27 are needed in the Senate.
This bill — which effectively bans gender-affirming care for Kansans under the age of 18 — would allow for civil suits against doctors who provided gender-affirming care for those under age 18. It would also revoke the licenses of physicians who offered this care, starting in July 2023.
The bill blocks providing “testosterone to females,” “doses of estrogen to males,” and prescribing puberty-blocking medications to those under the required age, along with gender-transition surgery.
Hawkins said the bill was necessary to protect Kansas children from “life-altering” and permanent changes.
“Children are not fully able to weigh the risks and consider the long-term ramifications that occur from these mutilation procedures,” Hawkins said.
The legislation goes against the advice of health care organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Both of the organizations say banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors is damaging and not rooted in science.
The House passed the bill 70-52 and the Senate sent the legislation to Kelly with a vote of 23-12.
Kelly also vetoed Senate Bill 228. The original form of the bill was designed to help overburdened county jails receive reimbursement for housing costs, but lawmakers later rolled parts of the “women’s bill of rights” into the legislation.
In many counties, people deemed a danger to themselves or others are reviewed by the district attorney’s office, and are sent to the county jail until a hospital bed is ready.
Due to mental health care worker shortages and small numbers of mental health beds for patients, community hospitals and jails in western Kansas have had to pick up the slack, housing mentally unstable patients without state reimbursement.
SB 228 provides reimbursement to counties for the costs of housing people awaiting examination, evaluation or treatment for competency. However, lawmakers amended the bill to clarify men and women should always be kept in separate rooms, defining females as those born with the ability to produce eggs for reproduction and males as those born with “biological reproductive systems” meant to fertilize these eggs.
Bill critics say this new provision creates problems for transgender women and intersex people, and is overly burdensome to jails, many of which aren’t equipped with any processes to implement this sort of separation.
Hawkins said the bill was needed to protect female prisoners though there is already gender separation in jails.
“Governor Kelly’s veto of SB 228 puts women in danger by ensuring that female prisoners are housed with biologically male prisoners,” Hawkins said.
The bill passed the House 86-37 and the Senate 33-3.
School field trips
Kelly also vetoed Senate Substitute for House Bill 2138, a bill which passed the Senate 28-10 and the House 84-39. The bill would have required local school boards to implement requirements separating students based on “biological sex” during school-sponsored overnight stays.
The bill defines biological sex as “reproductive potential or capacity, such as sex chromosomes, naturally occurring sex hormones, gonads and non-ambiguous internal and external genitalia present at birth.” If enacted, it’s not clear how this policy would be enforced without intrusive genital checks.
Hawkins defended the bill, calling Kelly’s veto an example of her veering “dangerously left.”
“This commonsense legislation is well supported in the House and we are ready to act so that Kansas parents can trust their children will be ensured safety and privacy while traveling with their school district,” Hawkins said.
Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Lenexa Democrat, said the bill would hurt school districts.
“This bill would force districts to adopt outdated and rigid policies that will make activities extremely burdensome to plan, from a district perspective, and much harder to access for families,” Sykes said. “It also takes an issue that can be – and currently is – solved at the level closest to the student to a level that inherently cannot include nuance and grace that our kids deserve.”
House Minority Leader Vic Miller said Kelly was right to veto bills that would damage Kansas families and the state economy.
“Kansas has money in the bank. Most Republicans in the legislature seem to be okay using that excess revenue to defend unconstitutional, discriminatory legislation in court where it’s nearly guaranteed to lose, as it has in other states already,” Miller said. “Seems like a complete waste of taxpayer money, but okay. That’s why I am not a Republican.”
Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said Kelly’s latest round of vetoes showed she had veered from a moderate path and into a “far-left” ditch. He used the popular Republican rhetoric of the “woke agenda” in describing Kelly’s vetoes, though he and other Republicans have yet to give a definition of what “woke” means.
“By any reasonable standard, governing from the middle of the road should include ensuring vulnerable children do not become victims of woke culture run amok,” Masterson said.
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