Gov. Laura Kelly on Thursday became the third governor to veto a bill banning or limiting transgender girls and women from participating in interscholastic sports for females.
“This legislation sends a devastating message that Kansas is not welcoming to all children and their families, Kelly said in a statement.
“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. Kansas is an inclusive state and our laws should reflect our values. This law does not do that.”
The veto had been widely anticipated since the governor had been signaling for days that she was opposed to the bill without outright saying she would veto the legislation.
Kelly has always been a staunch advocate of the LGBTQ community.
She took legal steps in 2019 to reverse a policy adopted under former Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration to allow transgender people to change their birth certificates consistent with their gender identity.
The Legislature passed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act short of having the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor’s veto.
Senate President Ty Masterson told KCMO’s Pete Mundo last week that he thought he could get the 27 votes needed to override the veto.
He told Mundo that Kelly had no choice but to veto the bill.
“Her party has gone so far that direction, they wouldn’t stand for it if she didn’t,” he said.
But Masterson said he didn’t think the politics are in the governor’s favor.
“She has a little trouble there because in general population that’s a 90% issue with us on fairness,” he said.
Masterson promised a veto override.
“There are a few (senators) on the margins,” he said. “We’ll see what they do when the pressure comes.”
The bill has been portrayed as either an effort to ensure fairness for women so they wouldn’t have to compete against inherently stronger men or a discriminatory attack on transgender children.
Masterson and Sen. Renee Erickson, the bill’s sponsor, issued a joint statement saying the legislation was about ensuring fairness for women 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,” they said.
“We will continue to fight for fairness in women’s sports until this bill becomes law.”
Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Byers, elected as the state’s first transgender legislator last year, was elated with the governor’s veto.
“It’s such an affirming feeling to know the governor of the state is willing to say, ‘We’re not going to let hateful legislation like this attack our transgender community,'” Byers said in an interview. “It’s a huge deal, especially for our trans youth.
“For trans kids and their families, they’re very well aware of what’s happening in other states, holding their breath, hoping that we wouldn’t see something quite so drastic end up here in Kansas,” she said.
“To see Gov. Kelly’s veto on this, there’s been a collective sigh of relief.”
Kelly’s veto came a day after Republican North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum vetoed similar legislation on Wednesday.
Coservative South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who plans to attend the Kansas Republican convention this weekend, killed a bill in her state and instead issued executive orders with the restrictions that critics said were political cover.
Kansas is one of at least nine states where legislatures have passed similar bills.
In three of those states, the bills have been vetoed and in a fourth – Idaho – the law has been blocked in court and is now on appeal.
The West Virginia governor is expected to sign that state’s legislation or allow it to become law.
Kelly couched her veto in terms of economic development, saying bills like this would scare businesses away from Kansas.
“It would send a signal to prospective companies that Kansas is more focused on unnecessary and divisive legislation, than strategic, pro-growth lawmaking.”
A little more than a week ago, the NCAA strongly suggested it might cancel championship events where hosts can’t commit to providing an environment “free” of discrimination.
The announcement was relevant for Kansas because the NCAA has scheduled to hold the first and second rounds of the 2025 Division I men’s basketball championship and 2024 NCAA Division II wrestling national championships in the state.
Supporters of the bill said the state shouldn’t let corporate bullies dictate state policy.
“Gov. Kelly has sided today with the NCAA, who can’t even ensure girls have decent locker rooms, and the radical left, who are working to erase women,” said Brittany Jones, director of advocacy for the Family Policy Alliance.
Jones was referring to the NCAA apologizing after providing women’s basketball players with weight rooms inferior to men’s during the Division 1 basketball tournaments.
“Why would a family choose to move to Kansas if they knew their daughter’s opportunities were going to be stolen by a biological boy, no matter how hard that girl tried?” she asked.
“If the governor won’t stand up in this simple way, when will she stand up for girls?”