TOPEKA, Kan. — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed anti-diversity and anti-abortion provisions in Kansas’ next state budget Friday, intensifying a conflict with the Republican-controlled Legislature over culture war issues that could see her scotch a dozen or more conservative initiatives.
The governor has the power to excise individual budget items and used it to eliminate $2 million in state tax dollars for anti-abortion centers providing free counseling and pregnancy and parenting services. She’s previously vetoed two bills that would enact anti-abortion policies despite a decisive statewide vote in August 2022 affirming abortion rights.
Kelly vetoed a budget provision that would have prevented state universities from using diversity equity and inclusion principles in their hiring. She nixed another provision barring the state board that licenses mental health professionals from requiring them or giving them incentives to undergo training involving diversity or anti-racism theories.
The governor also has vetoed five bills rolling back transgender rights, including a sweeping bathroom bill and a measure that would have ended gender-affirming care for minors. GOP lawmakers are expected to try to override most if not all of Kelly’s vetoes on hot-button issues when they reconvene next week to wrap up their business for the year.
“Governor Kelly had two choices — to honor her campaign pledge to govern from the middle or to move Kansas sharply towards the left,” Senate President Ty Masterson, a Wichita-area Republican, said after several vetoes earlier this week. “The governor has clearly chosen the latter.”
Republican lawmakers in statehouses across the U.S. have pursued several hundred measures this year rolling back LGBTQ+ rights and attacking liberal ideas or policies in education and business. While voters in GOP-leaning Kansas affirmed abortion rights and narrowly reelected Kelly last year, they also left conservatives firmly in charge of the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Kelly has until Monday to act on a bill that would allow parents to pull public school students out of a lesson or activity that “impairs the parent’s sincerely held beliefs, values or principles.” Also on her desk is a bill that would prevent state and local officials from using environmental, social and governance issues in investing public funds or awarding government contracts.
On the budget legislation, Kelly followed the traditional Kansas practice of signing the measure itself — containing most of a proposed $24 billion annual budget — while vetoing multiple individual items.
The aid to the anti-abortion centers would have helped them aid both pregnant people and new parents, providing supplies, parenting and life-skills classes and job training or placement. It also would have started a state-supported advertising program to make them more visible.
Lawmakers put the money in the budget for State Treasurer Steven Johnson, a Republican who opposes abortion, rather than in a department under the control of Kelly, an abortion rights supporter. In her veto message, Kelly suggested that neither the state’s founders nor any of its treasurers would have seen such a program as part of the office’s duties.
“This is not an evidence-based approach or even an effective method for preventing unplanned pregnancies,” Kelly said.
Republican lawmakers also are hoping to pass a proposal to provide up to $10 million a year in state income tax credits to the centers’ donors.
Kelly this week vetoed a measure that would have required clinics to tell patients that a medication abortion can be reversed with a regimen rejected by major U.S. medical organizations and a bill that would have subjected doctors to criminal charges or lawsuits if a newborn is delivered alive during certain abortion procedures and they are accused of not providing the care that a physician reasonably would with other live deliveries.
On the anti-diversity provisions, Kelly said the one for the board licensing mental health professionals could have restricted training “in life-saving practices,” without being more specific.
She said the provision for state universities would have hindered hiring, made it harder for them to attract federal and private grants and hurt efforts to “support students from all backgrounds.”
House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, said Kelly had rejected measures to “support women in need” and prevent “the prevention of radical ideology” using tax dollars.
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