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Kansas governor rejects AG’s advice on new anti-trans law. Kobach: ‘We will see her in court’

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TOPEKA — Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach on Thursday promised to see Gov. Laura Kelly in court after she said state agencies will continue to support residents who seek gender-affirming birth certificates and driver’s licenses.

The political rivals are tangling over conflicting interpretations of Senate Bill 180, which takes effect July 1. The law conflates the meaning of gender and sex as it attempts to define women and restrict transgender rights.

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Government officials, attorneys and LGBTQ advocates have tried to decipher the vaguely worded law with varying results. Earlier this week, Kobach advised state agencies to stop changing gender markers on government documents and to revert any that have been changed.

Kelly, a Democrat who defeated Kobach, a Republican, in the 2018 governor’s race, said Thursday that state agencies would follow the advice of their own attorneys.

“While my administration and the attorney general’s office have had many conversations about the law, KDHE and KDOR disagree about its impacts on their operations and will instead keep in place their policies regarding gender markers on birth certificates and driver’s licenses,” Kelly said.

Kobach’s response: “She is violating her oath of office to uphold Kansas law. We will see her in court.”

Republicans passed the law earlier this year, referring to it as a “women’s bill of rights.” In late April, they overrode the Democratic governor’s veto of the measure.

The law defines women as having the ability to produce eggs for reproduction and men as those whose reproductive systems are developed to fertilize eggs — a definition that conflicts with social and scientific definitions of gender.

The language of the law suggests that people who don’t meet these requirements should be banned from female-specific places, such as locker rooms, bathrooms and crisis shelters. But legal authorities say the law can’t actually be used to ban transgender people from specific spaces, in part because there is no enforcement mechanism or penalty specified in the law.

Another portion of the bill stipulates that any agency, office or organization that collects vital statistics has to identify the person as either male or female based on designation at birth.

The right to change gender markers on birth certificates was confirmed in 2019 as part of an agreement in a federal lawsuit. Kobach’s office has asked the federal court to nullify the agreement.

Kelly’s office said the Kansas Department of Health and Environment would continue to follow the federal court order and protect the right to gender-affirming birth certificates for transgender Kansans.

The governor’s administration also said the new law won’t affect the Kansas Department of Revenue’s handling of driver’s licenses.

“The governor has stated that SB 180 changes nothing with respect to drivers licenses and birth certificates,” Kobach said. “That is nonsense. The Legislature passed SB 180 and overrode Governor Kelly’s veto specifically to ensure that those documents reflect biological sex at birth. The governor doesn’t get to veto a bill and then ignore the Legislature’s override.”

Other entities, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, have called Kobach’s interpretation of the law incorrect.

Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, called Kelly’s decision a “blatant” attempt to defy the intentions set out by SB180.

“I support aggressive action by our attorney general to uphold the law and hold this administration accountable,” Masterson said. “Their oaths were to the Kansas Constitution, not the radical ideology of the extreme left.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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