Restrictions on transgender rights and abortion coming to Kansas after Republicans override vetoes
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has seen some of her vetoes of culture wars legislation and others overridden by conservative Republicans who control the Kansas Legislature.
TOPEKA, Kansas — Republicans controlling the Legislature continued to use their supermajority to push through laws curbing transgender and abortion rights on Thursday.
Lawmakers overrode Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto to pass a law that bans transgender women from women’s bathrooms and other public places preserved for women. That could make Kansas the state with the country’s most restrictive transgender rights law.
They also used the final stretch run of this year’s legislative session to reverse Kelly vetoes on abortion restrictions following voters' rejection last summer of a proposal that could have led to a ban.
Legislators enacted anti-abortion laws that ramp up restrictions on abortion providers — changes that critics characterize as misinformation that could harm patients.
The abortion overrides represent a modest effort by Republicans to restrict abortion access, even though the state’s high court has ruled that the Kansas Constitution includes the right to abortion. Last year, voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot proposal that would have amended the state constitution.
And the new laws come as hundreds more people each month travel to Kansas from other states seeking abortions in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade being overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court last year and several states subsequently enacting bans.
Here’s some of what the Legislature has done during its override session this week:
Republican lawmakers passed an expansive “women’s bill of rights” banning transgender women from women’s restrooms, locker rooms, prisons and domestic violence shelters.
It’ll also prohibit transgender people from changing the sex on their driver’s licenses and other official documents.
Supporters said the law will make cisgender women safer in public spaces, while Democratic critics described it as hateful and discriminatory.
And those critics said it will weaken organizations that help keep women safe by forcing them to forfeit money. Women’s domestic violence shelters that exclude transgender women would fall out of compliance with federal anti-discrimination rules, jeopardizing their taxpayer funding.
Senate lawmakers voted 28-12 Wednesday afternoon and House lawmakers voted 84-40 Thursday morning to override Kelly’s veto, narrowly making the bill a law.
Additionally, lawmakers overrode the governor’s veto to pass a law requiring school districts to provide separate overnight accommodations for students based on their biological gender. The measure was prompted by a situation last year in Eudora, Kansas, where a female student was directed to share a bed with a trans student during a spring break trip.
Transgender health care
The Kansas Senate fell one vote short of overriding a veto on transgender health care restrictions.
The bill would let families sue doctors for prescribing puberty blockers, hormone treatment and vasectomies, among other procedures, for minors. Doctors would also jeopardize their medical licenses for such treatment.
The proposals also would have restricted surgeries like mastectomies or other operations that remove body parts. But those aren’t as common.
Republicans pushed for the bill, arguing children are too young to make these decisions. Democrats said gender-affirming care reduces suicide risks.
Kelly vetoed the bill and said approving anti-trans legislation would chase away businesses.
Lawmakers passed a law mandating that doctors tell patients that it may be possible to reverse the effects of the abortion pill mifepristone, the first of a two-drug regimen used in nearly 70% of Kansas abortions. The state health department must now maintain a website directing women to information about a controversial hormone treatment that mainstream medical groups argue is unproven and dangerous.
The law, dubbed by supporters as the “Women’s Right to Know Act,” also asserts that the definition of abortion under state law does not include terminating ectopic pregnancies or managing miscarriages — medical care that often is identical to elective abortions.
It comes after Republicans said some voters falsely assumed last year’s proposed constitutional amendment could have resulted in it being harder for people with those pregnancy complications to get lifesaving care. It’s viewed as an attempt to make a potential future effort to ban abortion in Kansas more palatable to voters.
Lawmakers were narrowly able to override Kelly’s veto 84-40 in the House and 29-11 in the Senate.
Lawmakers enacted a law that will ramp up restrictions on abortion providers over criticisms the new law could add trauma to families at the end of difficult pregnancies.
The “Born Alive Infants Protection Act” requires doctors to provide lifesaving medical care to infants born alive after an attempted abortion. Critics have said that situation rarely, if ever, occurs in Kansas and that the bill is designed to promote misinformation about abortion.
Killing a newborn baby is already a crime under several existing laws, but the new law mandates some specific steps, including immediate transport to a hospital. Critics said that could impact palliative care for infants who will die shortly after birth.
The bill was enacted with an 87-37 vote in the House and 31-9 in the Senate. A small number of Democrats joined Republicans in overriding Kelly’s veto, including Rep. Jason Probst of Hutchinson, Rep. Marvin Robinson of Kansas City, Kansas, and Sen. David Haley, also from Kansas City.
Abortion provider insurance
Lawmakers failed to override Kelly’s veto of a bill that would have barred abortion providers from purchasing liability insurance from the Kansas Health Care Stabilization Fund. That provision was added to a bill that previously had bipartisan support and would’ve also enabled maternity centers to purchase insurance from the fund.
Critics said the amended bill was misleading because no tax money goes toward the Health Care Stabilization Fund. State and federal laws already prohibit taxpayer dollars from funding abortions except in rare cases.
House lawmakers narrowly overrode Kelly’s veto 84-40, but Senators voted 25-15 — just short of the 27 votes that would have been needed.
Crisis pregnancy centers
Lawmakers voted to establish a $2 million “alternatives to abortion” program that will route money to anti-abortion counseling centers, commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers.
The faith-based nonprofits discourage people from getting abortions. They provide resources like free pregnancy tests, baby supplies and parenting classes, but they’ve been mired in criticism for what some say are misleading tactics.
The Kansas Treasurer will contract with a nonprofit organization to distribute the money to centers. Kansas already sends a small amount of money to the centers through a limited state grant program, but this provision will dramatically expand that. Over a dozen states have similar programs.
Kelly vetoed the budget provision last week. A 86-38 supermajority in the Kansas House approved the override on Wednesday and a 29-11 supermajority of state senators approved it on Thursday.
The provision is separate from a bill that would send up to $10 million each year to the centers through a sweeping tax credit program, which lawmakers are still considering.
The Kansas Senate failed to override a flat tax plan veto by one vote.
The bill would have replaced the state’s progressive income tax brackets with a single, flat 5.15% rate (after the first $12,000 for married couples filing jointly). The tax code will retain its three brackets, ranging from 3.1% to 5.7%.
The flat tax proposal also bundled a quicker end to the food sales tax and modifications to the social security tax — things Kelly championed.
The governor criticized the flat tax as something that would benefit the rich and hurt state revenue — leaving less public money to spend on schools and other state services. Republicans said the simpler tax code would provide tax relief to all Kansans.
That Republican-led tax plan would have cut state revenue by about $330 million a year. Kelly vetoed the bill Monday and offered a more modest rebate plan to make use of the state’s $2 billion surplus.
The Kansas House failed to override the governor’s veto of a line item in the budget bill that would have banned diversity training requirements for social service workers.
The Senate fell two votes short of pushing through a change to election law that Kelly vetoed.
State law lets advance voters mail in their ballots, those votes count as long as they are postmarked by Election Day and reach the county election office no later than three days after Election Day.
Republicans had wanted to require that mail-in ballots reach election offices before polls close on Election Day. People who vote by mail would need to send their ballots earlier to ensure delivery by that time.
Lawmakers once again failed to override Kelly’s veto of a bill that would specify parents’ rights in public school classrooms. The bill was a pared-down version of a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” that the governor vetoed last year. It would let parents pull their children out of any activity they find inappropriate.
Lawmakers pushed through a county jail funding bill that includes a provision barring transgender women from being housed with female prisoners. It provides money for county jails that house people with mental illness who are awaiting hospital beds.
Kelly vetoed the bill last week along with several other bills restricting the rights of transgender people.
The House fell one vote short of overriding Kelly’s veto of a law that would nudge schools toward using National Rifle Association curriculum for gun safety matters. The bill would require schools that teach gun safety to use the Eddie Eagle NRA program or else similar content for teaching young children.
Work requirements for federal food assistance will be expanding in Kansas. Lawmakers voted to override the governor's veto to require people between 50-59 years of age to work 30 hours a week for food assistance. If they work fewer hours, they would have to enroll in a work training program to keep their benefits.
Republican Senate President Ty Masterson voted to override the bill.
“It’s like everything has to be built around a government program and a handout,” he said Thursday. “This doesn’t force (the state) to take anyone off. It gives them every chance to work and participate.”
A petition signed by 161 groups from around the state asked lawmakers to not expand work requirements. Opponents of the law change worry it will take food away from people who need it most.
State Sen. John Doll, a Garden City Republican, was worried getting to and from job training in rural communities would be too hard. He said the plan is better suited for urban areas.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “most of Kansas is rural.”
Rose Conlon, Suzanne Perez, Blaise Mesa, Celia Llopis-Jepsen and Samantha Horton contributed to this article.
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.