The Democratic governor of Kansas vetoed a transgender sports ban and a bill aimed at making it easier for parents to remove books or other teaching materials they deem objectionable from school classrooms and libraries.
Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of the bills may effectively seal her fate as a Democrat in a heavily Republican state, but she stood firm on her opposition to both bills. Republicans are expected to trumpet the issue of parental rights ahead of this year’s midterm elections, with much of their criticism focusing on content they deem “inappropriate” — including books, outlines, or lessons that touch on — or could potentially touch on — LGBTQ-related issues.
In her veto messages to lawmakers, Kelly suggested that legislative leaders were motivated by political concerns when they approved the bill.
“We all want a fair and safe place for our kids to play and compete,” Kelly wrote in her veto message. “However, this bill didn’t come from the experts at our schools, our athletes, or the Kansas State High School Activities Association. It came from politicians trying to score political points.”
Kelly called the measure “divisive” and expressed concerns that a ban could engender a backlash against the state that could make it hard to attract businesses there, reports Topeka-based CBS affiliate WIBW.
The proposed ban would prohibit governing bodies, such as the Kansas State High School Activities Association or the NCAA, from taking action against schools for requiring transgender students to compete based on their assigned sex at birth. Under the bill any student-athlete who feels they have lost out on athletic opportunities due to the participation of a transgender student could sue for damages and attorney’s fees.
Supporters of the bill say it’s the only way to ensure the integrity of female-designated sports, since transgender individuals who have gone through male puberty at some point have an unfair biological advantage over their cisgender competitors.
“It’s about protecting the woman who worked and trained all her life, and should not have her hard work wiped out by being forced to compete on unlevel playing fields,” Senate President Ty Masterson (R-Andover) said in a prepared statement.
Kelly vetoed a nearly identical bill in 2021, but the vote to override fell one vote shy in the Kansas Senate. But even if Republicans managed to flip one “no” vote in the upper chamber, they face a taller hurdle in the House of Representatives, where five Republicans voted against last year’s bill.
“People have been voting their conscience all the way along,” Rep. Bradley Ralph (R-Dodge City), one of the GOP lawmakers who opposed the bill, told The Topeka Capital-Journal. “That’s where I’ve been and I think people understand that … this is a principled vote for anyone who makes this vote and it is not one of those you sway back and forth depending on the day or the week.”
Other governors — both Republicans and Democrats — have vetoed bans on transgender athletes, including Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb. Republican-led efforts to override those vetoes have been successful in Kentucky and Utah. Currently, 13 states explicitly bar transgender athletes from competing on sports teams matching their gender identity.
The education censorship bill, dubbed a “parental rights” measure by supporters, would have required local school boards to develop policies allowing parents to review classroom and library materials, and setting up a process for removing them from the curriculum or from library shelves. Supporters of the measure say it’s about ensuring “transparency” in schools, but opponents say the idea that schools are hiding what they’re teaching is overblown and that many teachers in the state already make lesson plans available to parents.
Original versions of the bill had been much more explicit about the types of material they sought to ban from the classroom. The Senate version overwhelmingly dealt with racially-tinged issues, although parents would be empowered to object to any content, while the House version of the bill focused primarily on sexual content, including homosexuality or LGBTQ-related issues.
Kelly said that while having parent engaged is important to learning, the bill would only “create more division in our schools” and could be financially detrimental to the state, which would have to waste “money that should be spent in the classroom” to defend the law when it was inevitably challenged in court, reports NBC News.