Kansas legislators fail to overcome veto on transgender athlete ban, as supporters look to future
Lawmakers have vowed to continue the push for legislation banning transgender athletes from girls' and women's sports, even though members were unable to garner enough votes to overturn a veto from Gov. Laura Kelly Monday.
The bill, part of an effort sweeping conservative statehouses across the country, was rejected by Kelly last month.
She echoed concerns from LGBT activists that it would harm the mental health of transgender youths, saying it sends "a devastating message" and threatened the state's economic standing.
In a tense vote Monday, the Kansas Senate nearly garnered enough votes to move forward with overturning the veto. Members ultimately fell one vote shy of the 27-member threshold needed to override, with three Republican members opting to oppose the legislation.
Vote fails on razor-thin margin on transgender athlete ban
But it was a Democratic senator, Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, Kan. who ultimately decided the bill's fate.
After passing during the two previous votes on the matter, Haley ultimately moved to oppose the bill, despite saying it raised legitimate concerns about how transgender individuals could affect opportunities for female athletes.
This has been a point championed by the bill's proponents, who have argued it is a way of ensuring fair competition in women's sports.
Haley said in a protracted floor speech that he shared concerns about the biological differences between sexes and noted his hesitation to stake out a position on the bill.
At one point, he compared himself to a Civil War-era soldier who wore a blue jacket in support of the Union and grey pants in alliance with the Confederacy, saying would end " up "being shot by both sides."
"David Haley can't win in this discussion, in this debate," he said.
Haley said after the vote the potential economic impacts of the legislation were what prompted him to side with the opposition.
Pushback to the bill prompted the National Collegiate Athletic Association to state that "only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination" will be chosen going forward, a direct response to the bill.
Other economic development organizations, particularly in the Kansas City, Kan., metro area, also raised concerns about the legislation's impact on businesses moving to Kansas.
Chillin' in the Statehouse Episode 8: Transgender Sports Bill
"I do feel there are many sports entities, national organizations that will look to venues like Kansas to see how broad the opportunities would be," Haley told reporters. "That really is what tipped it for me."
Despite the razor-thin margin, LGBT activists and civil rights groups cheered the bill's demise.
An emotional Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said activists were unsure until the final vote tally as to what the ultimate outcome would be.
"After a long reputation of being anti-LGBT, this state is making progress on rights for LGBT people, it is making progress on rights for transgender people," Witt said.
Supporters vow to pursue the issue, make it campaign debate
Supporters of the bill slammed Kelly for her veto Monday and were equally strident in their criticism of the effect that organizations like the NCAA had on the bill's fate, saying it was tantamount to corporate bullying.
"I think it shows her true, far-left leanings," Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, the bill's main proponent, said of Kelly's veto. "Every indication that I've gotten is that this is not a Kansas value."
Haley said, despite his no vote, that he believed the debate would continue to be important going forward.
While Kansas State High School Activities Association data suggests relatively few transgender individuals have attempted to compete in girls' sports in Kansas, Haley said those figures would increase with time.
"Today in 2021 there may be five," Haley said. "My concern is the first transgender girl or women has the competitive physical advantage to overcome a biologically born woman and that, in fact, there are some repercussions."
It is likely similar legislation will be brought up again in Kansas, with supporters not ruling out an attempt to resurrect the proposal this session.
Members in Florida, for instance, tied the transgender athletes bill into a separate proposal allowing college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness — legislation that is also being considered in Kansas.
Erickson said Monday there were no firm plans to reconsider the matter in 2021 but added things could change going forward.
"We're going to keep talking ," Brittany Jones, director of advocacy for the Family Policy Alliance, told reporters. "Our options are not dead."
A more likely scenario, however, is that Republicans take aim at bringing the issue back next session.
Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, pledged as much, while Jones said it would be a potential issue in the 2022 elections unless action is taken.
"This is an issue that Kansans will (use to) make decisions on who they want representing them in the Legislature and as their governor," Jones said. "This is always an issue Kansans care about."
But Rep. Stephanie Byers, D-Wichita, the first openly transgender legislator in the state's history, said members would forge ahead with the proposal at their own peril.
"If they try to bring this back next session, I think it is clear in everyone's mind that this is intentional bullying," Byers said. "It is no longer about women's sports or fairness or anything else. It is simply, 'These are people we don't like and we want to get them out of Kansas in some way.'
"I'll be here next year as well, and we will stand again."