Kansas has a new anti-DEI law, but the governor has vetoed bills on abortion and even police dogs

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas’ Democratic governor on Friday vetoed proposed tax breaks for anti-abortion counseling centers, while restrictions on college diversity initiatives passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature would become law without her signature.

Gov. Laura Kelly also vetoed a bill with bipartisan support to increase penalties for killing a law enforcement dog or horse, a measure the Republican leader who proposed it called “political pettiness.” In addition, she rejected two election measures that were at least partially fueled by the influence of people who promoted baseless election conspiracies among Republicans.

Kelly’s action on the bill on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives was notable because it broke with her vetoes last year of anti-DEI measures from the current state budget.

The new law, which takes effect July 1, prohibits state universities, community colleges and technical schools from requiring potential students or applicants for employment or promotion to make statements about their views on diversity, equity and inclusion programs. Kelly let it become law just two days after the state Board of Higher Education passed its own, stricter ban on the same practices.

“While I have concerns about this legislation, I do not believe the conduct targeted by this legislation is taking place on our universities,” Kelly said in her veto message, contradicting statements from Republican lawmakers.

Lawmakers return from spring break Thursday and wrap up their work for the year in six days. Top Republicans vowed to immediately try to override Friday’s vetoes.

Republicans in at least two dozen states have tried to limit DEI initiatives, arguing that they are discriminatory and enforce a liberal political orthodoxy. Alabama and Utah passed new anti-DEI laws this year, and a ban passed in Texas last year led to more than a hundred job losses on the University of Texas campuses.

The Kansas Board of Regents’ new policy applies only to state universities and does not specify penalties, while the new law allows for a fine of up to $10,000 for each violation.

Supporters of DEI programs say they are being misrepresented. The American Psychological Association defines diversity, equity, and inclusion as a framework to guide “fair treatment and full participation of all people,” especially those from minority groups.

“We must move forward and focus our efforts on making college more affordable and giving students of all backgrounds the tools they need to succeed,” Kelly said in her post on the bill.

Because the bill would help the state’s nearly 60 anti-abortion centers, Kelly’s veto was expected because she is a strong supporter of abortion rights. She has already vetoed two other measures championed by abortion opponents this year.

But Republican lawmakers in Kansas have had increasing success in overruling Kelly’s actions. Republican leaders appear to have the necessary two-thirds majorities in both chambers on abortion issues and appeared close to the DEI bill.

The latest abortion measure would exempt anti-abortion centers that provide free services to expectant mothers and new parents from paying the 6.5% state tax on what they buy and give donors income tax breaks totaling up to $10 million a year.

Kelly said in her veto message that it is not appropriate for the state to “channel taxpayer dollars to largely unregulated crisis pregnancy centers.”

The bill also contains provisions intended to provide financial assistance to parents who adopt or wish to adopt children.

“Governor Kelly has once again shown that her only loyalty is to the profit-driven abortion industry, not to vulnerable women, children and families in Kansas,” said Jeanne Gawdun, lobbyist for Kansans for Life, the nation’s most influential anti-abortion organization. stands. group, a statement said.

Opponents of abortion in Kansas are prevented from pursuing the same kind of strict restrictions or bans on abortion that have been imposed in neighboring states, including Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. A 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision declared that access to abortion is a fundamental right under the state constitution, and a statewide vote in August 2022 decisively affirmed that position.

“This bill goes against the wishes of the people of Kansas,” Kelly said in her veto message.

Kelly has also clashed repeatedly with Republicans over voting rights issues.

One of the election bills she vetoed would no longer give voters an additional three days after Election Day to return mail-in ballots to election officials. Many Republicans said they are responding to concerns — fueled by lies from former President Donald Trump — about the integrity of the election results if ballots are accepted after Election Day.

The other election bill would prohibit state agencies and local officials from using federal funds to administer elections or promote voting without express authorization from the Legislature. Republicans see the Biden administration’s spending as an attempt to inappropriately increase Democratic turnout.

But Kelly chided lawmakers for “focusing on problems that don’t exist.”

“I would urge the Legislature to focus on real issues that impact Kansans,” Kelly said in her veto message on the second bill.

The veto of the police dog bill was perhaps Kelly’s most surprising action. Higher penalties have received bipartisan support across the U.S., with Colorado Governor Jared Polis signing a measure into law this week.

The measure in Kansas was inspired by the November death of Bane, an 8-year-old Wichita police dog who authorities said was strangled by a suspect in a domestic violence case. It could see a first-time offender sentenced to up to five years and a fine of up to $10,000.

Kelly said the issue needs more study, and said the new penalties for killing a police dog would be out of line with other, more serious crimes, “without justification.”

But House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican and the bill’s leading supporter, said, “This veto is a slap in the face to all law enforcement.”