TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – A Kansas bill barring transgender athletes from playing women’s and women’s sports was vetoed Friday by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly for the third year in a row, sparking a bitter fight in the Republican-controlled Legislature. override her.
Kelly’s action was expected because of her two previous vetoes. Kansas Republicans made Kelly’s veto a major issue in multiple television attack ads when she narrowly won re-election last year.
In her veto message, the governor said the bill would harm the mental health of students and harm the state’s recruiting efforts. Kelly also said lawmakers should leave the issue to the state association formed decades ago to guide student activities in middle and high schools.
“Let’s be clear about what this bill is about – policy,” Kelly wrote. “It’s not going to increase test scores. It will not help any children to read or write. It’s not going to help any teacher prepare our kids for the real world.”
Kelly’s arguments Friday were similar to those she has made in past messages about the veto and during her re-election campaign.
“It would send a signal to future companies that Kansas is more focused on unnecessary, divisive laws than becoming a place where young people want to work and raise a family,” she said in a message Friday.
Republicans have more than the two-thirds majority in both chambers needed to override a veto, but in 2021 and 2022, several moderate Republicans voted against overriding Kelly. House and Senate votes on this year’s bill suggest supporters may have enough votes to prevail.
The measure would apply to K-12 girls and women, club and college sports. If supporters can override Kelly’s veto, Kansas would join 18 other states with such a law, including Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas.
The measure is among dozens of Republican proposals being pushed back against transgender rights in statehouses across the US. Kansas has bills aimed at banning gender-affirming care for minors and preventing transgender men and women from using bathrooms, locker rooms and other facilities associated with their gender identity. .
Kelly’s veto came a day after the Republican-dominated Kentucky Legislature approved a ban on gender-affirming child care and the GOP-controlled Iowa Legislature approved a school restroom bill.
Defending the bill, Kansas House Speaker Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, recently posted tweets supporting the theory, debunked by numerous studies, that “social contagion” has led to more people identifying as transgender.
He and other Republicans also argued that banning transgender athletes would preserve fair competition and opportunities for girls and young women.
“This is common sense,” Hawkins said in a statement Friday.
Kansas officials and LGBTQ rights advocates say only a handful of young transgender people participate in high school activities — and possibly only one transgender Kansas girl is on a sports team. Supporters of the law argue that the state should act before transgender athletes become more prevalent.
During her re-election campaign, Kelly aired a television commercial in which she looked into the camera and said, “Of course, men shouldn’t be playing women’s sports. OK, we all agree on that.”
LGBTQ rights advocates took the ad to mean that men don’t play women’s sports because transgender women are women. But Republicans said she lied about her record, and have repeatedly referenced her statement since then.
“It’s clear that Candidate Kelly is gone and Governor Kelly is back,” Hawkins said. “Now that he no longer has to face voters, the governor has done another about-face.”
The Senate voted 28-11 last week, giving supporters one more than the two-thirds majority needed in the 40-member chamber to override a veto.
However, the House would vote first, and last month it voted 82-40. While supporters need 84 of 125 votes to override a veto, two Republicans who supported the bill were absent.
Last year, supporters lacked a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives, but in last year’s election three Republicans who supported the ban replaced GOP lawmakers who voted against overriding Kelly’s veto. Also, while no Democrats voted to override Kelly last year, freshman Democratic Rep. Ford Carr of Wichita voted for this year’s bill.
Republican lawmakers in Kansas have also introduced a bill to revoke the state medical licenses of doctors who administer puberty-blocking drugs, hormone therapy or surgeries to transgender minors. The Senate passed it last month, but the House has not had a committee hearing.
Another Senate-passed bill would define men and women in Kansas law based on a person’s anatomy at birth and declare that cisgender women and girls have the right to private spaces separate from men, such as bathrooms and locker rooms.
LGBTQ rights advocates said the measure not only bars transgender people from entering institutions associated with their gender identities, but also legally erases them, along with gender non-conforming and non-binary people.
The bill’s language would also prevent transgender people from changing birth certificates and driver’s licenses to reflect their gender identity, although Kansas is under a 2019 federal court order to allow birth certificate changes.
The measure is before the House after one of its committees rewrote it this week to prevent it from applying to intersex people. Intersex describes people born with genitalia, chromosomes or reproductive organs that are not associated with typical definitions of male or female.
“We don’t want to marginalize them anymore,” said Republican Representative Ron Bryce, a doctor from southeast Kansas.
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