Kansas governor vetoes measures to aid anti-abortion centers, limit health officials' power

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Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly speaks during a news conference with former Kansas Teacher of the Year winners, Tuesday, April 25, 2023, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. As conservative Republican lawmakers promote school choice proposals, the Democratic governor says the state should not "divert" its tax dollars to private schools. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas' Democratic governor on Friday vetoed Republican legislation that would have provided a financial boost to anti-abortion pregnancy centers and prevented officials fighting outbreaks of contagious diseases from prohibiting public gatherings or ordering infected people to isolate themselves.

The two measures were part of a wave of conservative policies passed by GOP-controlled state legislatures this year, including ones in Kansas rolling back transgender rights and establishing new restrictions on abortion providers. But Gov. Laura Kelly's two vetoes will stand because lawmakers have adjourned for the year, barring any attempt at overriding them.

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The anti-abortion measure would have granted up to $10 million a year in new state income tax credits to donors to the more than 50 centers across the state that provide free counseling, classes, supplies and other services to pregnant people and new parents to discourage abortions. Lawmakers included it in a wide-ranging tax bill that also included an expansion of existing tax credits for adoption expenses and purchases from businesses that employ disabled workers. Kelly vetoed the entire bill.

Republican lawmakers pursued anti-abortion measures this year despite a decisive statewide vote in August 2022 affirming abortion rights. Abortion opponents argued that the vote didn't preclude “reasonable” restrictions and other measures, while Democrats argued that GOP legislators were breaking faith with voters.

Kelly supports abortion rights and narrowly won reelection last year. Last month she vetoed $2 million in the next state budget for direct aid to the centers, but the Legislature overrode that action.

In her latest veto message, Kelly didn't point to any individual provision in the tax bill but said bundling so many proposals together made it “impossible to sort out the bad from the good.”

In vetoing direct aid to anti-abortion centers last month, Kelly called them “largely unregulated” and said, “This is not an evidence-based approach or even an effective method for preventing unplanned pregnancies.”

Abortion opponents argued that providing financial aid to their centers would help make sure that people facing unplanned pregnancies have good alternatives if they're unsure about getting abortions.

House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, accused Kelly in a statement of a "political bias against helping vulnerable new mothers.”

Even if lawmakers still had a chance to override Kelly's veto, they didn't pass the tax bill initially with the two-thirds majorities required.

The other bill Kelly vetoed was part of an ongoing backlash from conservative lawmakers against how she, other state officials and local officials attempted to check the spread of COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021. They were particularly critical of orders closing schools and businesses during the pandemic's first months and restrictions on businesses' operations and mask mandates later.

“She said no to protecting the health freedom of Kansans and curtailing the powers of unelected bureaucrats,” Senate President Ty Masterson, another Wichita-area Republican, said in a statement.

But Republicans split over the measure because some feared it went too far in curbing state and local officials' powers during outbreaks.

It would have stripped local officials of their authority to prohibit public gatherings and repealed a requirement that local law enforcement officers enforce orders from public health officials. Those officials also would have lost their authority to order quarantines for infected people.

The head of the state health department, appointed by the governor, would have lost the power to issue orders and impose new health rules to prevent the spread of disease or to order people to get tested or seek treatment for infectious diseases.

Kelly's veto message said Kansas has been a pioneer in public health policy. A century ago the state's top health official, Dr. Samuel Crumbine, was known internationally for campaigning against unsanitary, disease-spreading practices such as spitting on sidewalks and having common drinking cups on railroads and in public buildings.

“Yet lawmakers continue trying to undermine the advancements that have saved lives in every corner of our state," Kelly wrote.

The bill also reflected vaccine opponents' influence with conservative Republican lawmakers.

It would have prevented the head of the state health department from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for children entering school or day care — something Kelly's administration has said it doesn't plan to do. State and local officials also would not have been able to cite a person's lack of vaccination as a reason for recommending that they isolate themselves.


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

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