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These new abortion, gender and drug laws just took effect in Kansas

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Republican lawmakers sparred over legislation that became law this month. But they found common ground on others, like a new law legalizing fentanyl test strips to help reduce overdose deaths.
Dylan Lysen
Kansas News Service
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Republican lawmakers sparred over legislation that became law this month. But they found common ground on others, like a new law legalizing fentanyl test strips to help reduce overdose deaths.

New laws that went into effect this month in Kansas could have a significant impact on the lives of residents. But some may still face the scrutiny of a court challenge.

New laws that range from the definition of male and female to testing for a lethal drug to abortion pill regulations took effect in Kansas this month.

It’s unclear how many of them will survive likely court challenges.

The fresh statutes reflect the Legislature’s increasingly aggressive approach to America’s culture wars — with a particular focus to restrict, rather than recognize, transgender rights — over Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s sometimes toothless objections.

But lawmakers also found some ways to find bipartisan bargains, like one change in law that legalized fentanyl test strips as a way to reduce overdose deaths.

Here are some of the most consequential new laws in Kansas:

Women’s Bill of Rights

Men and women are now defined by their sex assigned at birth.

But it appears the true ramifications of the law will need to be resolved in court.

Republican Attorney General Kris Kobach said he plans to sue Kelly’s administration after the governor announced the law would not change how Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Department or Revenue issue identification.

The state agencies will continue to allow residents to change the gender on their birth certificates and IDs. Kobach had previously said the new law meant the state must reverse gender changes on both.

However, the new law appears to contradict a 2019 federal ruling. In that case, the court ordered Kansas to allow transgender residents to change their IDs.

Fairness in Women’s Sports Act

Transgender girls will no longer be allowed to participate in girls sports for schools and colleges.

Republican lawmakers argued the law was needed because student athletes assigned male at birth have a biological advantage in sports over girls. (Experts say that physical advantage subsides with hormone therapy, particularly if it begins before puberty.)

Kelly initially vetoed the bill — the third time she’d rejected similar legislation in three years. But Republicans rallied enough votes — including one from Democratic Rep. Marvin Robinson — to enact the law. But the law may also be challenged in court.

Meanwhile, the change is not expected to have a widespread impact on Kansas student athletes.

Jeremy Holaday, a spokesperson for the Kansas State High School Activities Association, said of the 106,000 students participating in the organization’s sports and activities during the 2022-23 school year, only one of the students would still be when it went into effect.

Legalizing fentanyl test strips

 Fentanyl test strips are no longer considered drug paraphernalia. That allows them to be used to detect whether other drugs are laced with deadly fentanyl.

Several attempts to legalize the test strips failed in recent years. But this year, lawmakers heard gut-wrenching testimony from Kansas parents who lost children to drug overdoses.

The change received broad bipartisan support. When the bill was signed into law, Republican Rep. Stephen Owens said the test strips can help save lives.

“These issues that are so critical,” Owens said, “can be bipartisan issues that we can move forward together to make Kansas a better place.”

Statute of limitations for child sex crimes

Prosecutions of child sex crimes no longer have a statute of limitations. Similar to murder and rape cases, prosecutors can now bring cases to trial decades after the crime.

Additionally, victims of child sex abuse have until they are 31 years old to pursue civil lawsuits against abusers. Previously, the state required those lawsuits to be filed before the victim turned 21 years old.

Lawmakers considered the change after a Kansas Bureau of Investigation reportdocumented decades of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the state. The agency also concluded that the state’s statute of limitations hindered criminal prosecutions.

The new law received unanimous support in the Legislature.

Abortion pill reversal

Doctors are now required to provide abortion patients with information about the reversibility of the abortion pill mifepristone. The information is medically unsubstantiated and medical groups argue studies supporting the idea are flawed.

Although the law is on the books, the state won’t enforce it until a court weighs in.

Kobcah reached an agreement with abortion providers to wait until the court rules on a request for a temporary injunction. Abortion providers are challenging the law and several others for violating the state constitutional right to an abortion.

Laws restricting abortion access in Kansas are likely to face scrutiny from the Kansas Supreme Court, which ruled in 2019 that the state constitution protects the right to an abortion. Kansas voters also reaffirmed that ruling when they overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment last year that would have effectively reversed the court’s ruling.

Dylan Lysen reports on politics for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanLysen or email him at dlysen (at) kcur (dot) org.

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.

As the Kansas social services and criminal justice reporter, I want to inform our audience about how the state government wants to help its residents and keep their communities safe. Sometimes that means I follow developments in the Legislature and explain how lawmakers alter laws and services of the state government. Other times, it means questioning the effectiveness of state programs and law enforcement methods. And most importantly, it includes making sure the voices of everyday Kansans are heard. You can reach me at dlysen@kcur.org, 816-235-8027 or on Threads, @DylanLysen.
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