Kansas trans sports ban nears passage; veto likely to stick

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Conservative legislators in Kansas were close Friday night to passing a ban on transgender girls and women competing in female school sports but didn’t appear to have enough support to override an almost certain veto.

The state House approved the measure, 74-39, leaving supporters 10 votes short of the two-thirds majority necessary to overturn a veto from Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. While a dozen of the House’s 125 members were absent, at least five of them were likely to vote no.

Republicans nationwide have pushed the issue, framing it as fairness in competition and access to scholarships to appeal to a broad swath of voters. At least 12 other states have enacted such laws, including Arizona and Oklahoma this week.


In Kansas, the proposal was part of a larger agenda for conservatives who lead the Republican-controlled Legislature with Kelly facing a tough reelection race this year. Conservatives advanced a measure to respond to concerns about what’s taught in public schools by making it easier for parents to try to remove materials from classrooms and libraries, and they also sought to tighten election laws.

Kansas lawmakers wanted to finish the bulk of their business for the year before adjourning for their annual three-week spring break late Friday or early Saturday. Groups of House and Senate negotiators haggled over the final versions of bills, in between debates and votes on others in each chamber.

Kelly vetoed a bill last year on transgender athletes, and an effort to override her veto fell a single vote short of the necessary two-thirds majority in the Senate.

State Rep. Heather Meyer, an Overland Park Democrat, said the bill told transgender children that “they are not valid.” After speaking about her transgender 12-year-old son and her son’s transgender best friend, she wiped her eyes with a tissue as the debate continued.

“This is my child, and I’m going to stand up for them. I’m going to stand up for their friends. I’m going to stand up for their peers,” Meyer said. “This is just wrong.”

The state activities association requires schools to notify the association if a student plans to participate on a team “opposite their birth gender.” It allows each school to decide what team a student joins, and the association’s executive board settles disputes.

The association has been notified of six or seven transgender athletes in grades 7 through 12, Executive Director Bill Faflick said. Several legislators said one is a transgender girl.

LGBTQ-rights activists said debates over such measures stress transgender youth, increase bullying and lead to more suicides.

“When this is over, and we go on break, I will go to my house, and there will be families that come to my porch and look at me and say, ‘Can you tell us that this is going to be OK?’” said Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Byers, of Wichita, the state’s first and only elected transgender lawmaker, her voice briefly breaking.

She added: “I promise you, your constituents will write ME, and those letters start with, ‘I would tell my representative, but they won’t listen.’”

The bill’s supporters argue they’re trying to protect hard-won opportunities for girls and women to play sports and win scholarships.

“It makes me sad that the women in the room don’t realize that we biological women are being bullied,” said Rep. Tatum Lee, a conservative Ness City Republican. “We do everything we can to protect those being bullied, and I feel bullied.”

Brittany Jones, an attorney who lobbies for the conservative group Kansas Family Voice, said the issue grew even more compelling for athletes and their families when the University of Pennsylvania’s Lia Thomas this month became the first NCAA transgender women’s swimming champion.

The bill’s supporters frequently refer to transgender women as “biological” men, boys or males in arguing that transgender athletes have unfair advantages.

“You cannot put a uterus into a trans woman,” said state Rep. Barbara Wasinger, a conservative Hays Republican. “I have no problem and want to help with gender dysphoria, but I’m not going to do it on the backs of young women trying to succeed and excel in sports.”

Byers called such rhetoric is an attempt at “complete erasure” for transgender women.

Meanwhile, Kansas also was part of Republican state lawmakers’ push across the U.S. to tighten election laws and give conservative parents more say in how public schools are run.

One bill approved by the House, 67-46, would require local school boards to adopt policies for giving parents access to classroom materials, challenging materials in classrooms and libraries and allowing them to inspect school records. Senate approval would send it to Kelly.

Supporters touted the measure as a “transparency” alternative to trying to ban the teaching of certain concepts that suggest current institutions were deeply shaped by slavery and racism or remain racist.

But Republicans struggled to reach an agreement on whether the state should eliminate a three-day grace period for mail ballots to arrive after an election and whether to impose limits on ballot drop boxes.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna



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