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Gov. Kelly Calls Kansas Ban On Transgender Athletes A 'Job Killer,' Hinting At A Veto

WICHITA, Kansas —Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is signaling she’ll likely reject a bill that’s part of a culture war flashpoint — an effort in Kansas and other states to bar transgender athletes from girls’ and women’s sports.

Kelly makes a practice of not explicitly threatening vetos, but critical comments this week hint that she’s likely to strike the legislation down with her veto pen.

“We know that a bill like the trans athlete bill is a job killer,” Kelly said this week at an event in Wichita. Businesses and sports organizations have been increasingly willing to pull out of states that they see as hostile to gay and transgender rights.

A veto would set up a showdown with Republicans during the tail end of the Kansas legislative session next month. While the plan didn’t pass with enough votes to override a veto, it has powerful supporters who will likely work to secure enough support for an override.

Kelly met with business leaders to discuss growing the economy as the pandemic wanes. A main focus was attracting people to Kansas with needed skills.

After the meeting, Kelly pointed to the outcome in other states that passed similar bans on transgender athletes. She said the bill would make it harder to attract people and business to Kansas.

“We can learn from history,” Kelly said. “Companies are making it very clear that they are not interested in this kind of regressive legislation that discriminates against anybody.”

The plan would bar transgender girls and women — those who were assigned at birth as boys but come to identify themselves as female — from competing on female sports teams in Kansas public schools and universities. The bill’s backers say transgender athletes have an unfair advantage.

Republican Sen. Renee Erickson said the ban would preserve girls’ and women’s sports.

“They have a right to a fair and equitable playing field in sports,” she said last week. “This isn’t about discriminating against anybody else. It’s simply protecting their rights.”

About 30 states have filed similar bills barring transgender athletes.

The NCAA added to the pushback this week. Its board of governors issued a statement supporting transgender athletes in response to states considering these types of laws. It said the organization only selects locations for major events that are “safe, healthy and free of discrimination.”

“We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants,” the group said.

Wichita is already scheduled to hold NCAA basketball championship events in 2022 and 2025. Critics of the transgender athletes bill said those events could be in jeopardy if the ban becomes law.

Republican Senate President Ty Masterson and Erickson fired back and shrugged off the pressure.

“We will not back down in defense of fairness in women’s sports,” the two lawmakers said in a statement. “We will not sell out decades of progress by women for a few days of a basketball tournament.”

Brian Grimmett of the Kansas News Service contributed to this story

Stephen Koranda is the Statehouse reporter and news editor for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @Stephen_Koranda.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3