TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly on Thursday vetoed a series of controversial bills that would have banned transgender athletes from school sports, required high schoolers to pass a civics test before graduation, and installed NRA-sponsored curriculum in public schools.
The Republican-dominated Legislature is certain to attempt an override of the vetoes when lawmakers return in May, but none of the three bill blocked by the governor passed with a veto-proof two-thirds majority in both chambers.
Kelly said the Legislature’s attack on transgender athletes “sends a devastating message that Kansas is not welcoming to all children and their families.” Senate Bill 55 would limit participation in K-12 and college sports based on an individual’s assigned gender at birth.
“As Kansans, we should be focused on how to include all students in extracurricular activities rather than how to exclude those who may be different than us,” Kelly said. “Kansas is an inclusive state, and our laws should reflect our values. This law does not do that.”
The NCAA indicated it could withdraw basketball tournaments planned for Wichita and Kansas City if the law were enacted. The Democratic governor said the law would harm the state’s ability to attract and retain businesses.
Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, and Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, responded to the governor’s veto in a joint statement dismissing concerns about discrimination. The said the legislation ensures fairness in sports.
“It’s not about anything else other than that, and no state should allow itself to be intimidated by big corporations or the NCAA into pretending otherwise,” Masterson and Erickson said. “We will continue to fight for fairness in women’s sports until this bill becomes law.”
The transgender athlete bill was written and promoted by anti-LGBTQ organizations and introduced in dozens of states across the country. Local and national LGBTQ advocates applauded the governor’s veto.
“SB 55 was nothing more than a politically motived bill that seeks to dehumanize transgender Kansans,” said Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David.
There are five known transgender athletes in Kansas schools.
“Transgender children are not seeking to gain an unfair competitive advantage,” David said. “They are just children who want the opportunity to learn important skills of sportsmanship, competition, and teamwork with their peers.”
Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said he was grateful for Kelly’s veto of a “dangerous” bill that would harm vulnerable transgender children.
“Since she first began serving as a Kansas senator in 2005, she has been a strong and steadfast ally of the LGBTQ community,” Witt said. “Transgender kids across Kansas know they have a champion in the fight for equality and fairness.”
House Bill 2039 would require high schoolers to pass a civics exam and financial literacy class before they could graduate. House Bill 2089 requires gun safety courses taught in grades K-5 to follow curriculum offered by the National Rifle Association.
Kelly said the Kansas Constitution gives the Kansas State Board of Education the authority to set curriculum for public schools.
“This is legislative overreach,” the governor said. “I encourage the Legislature to work with the State Board of Education to modify curriculum.”
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