TOPEKA, Kan. – The Democratic governor of Kansas on Friday vetoed a Republican law that would have given anti-abortion pregnancy centers a financial boost and would have prevented officials who fight outbreaks of infectious diseases from banning public gatherings or people who infected the arrange isolation.
The two measures were part of a wave of conservative measures passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures this year, including those in Kansas, that are rolling back transgender rights and introducing new restrictions on abortion providers. But Gov. Laura Kelly’s two vetoes stand as lawmakers adjourned the session for this year unless an attempt is made to overrule them.
The anti-abortion measure would have provided up to $10 million a year in new state income tax credits for donors at the more than 50 centers across the state that provide free counseling, classes, supplies and other services to pregnant women and new parents to help them deter abortions. Legislators included it in a far-reaching tax bill that also provided for an expansion of existing tax credits for adoption costs and purchases from businesses that employ disabled workers. Kelly vetoed the entire bill.
Republican lawmakers pursued anti-abortion policies this year, despite a crucial statewide vote to confirm abortion rights in August 2022. Anti-abortion advocates argued that the vote does not preclude “reasonable” restrictions and other measures, while Democrats argued that Republican lawmakers broke voter confidence.
Kelly supports abortion rights and narrowly won re-election last year. Last month she vetoed $2 million in the next state budget for direct aid to the centers, but lawmakers overturned that measure.
In her recent veto message, Kelly didn’t refer to a single provision in the tax law, but said the bundling of so many proposals made it “impossible to tell the bad from the good.”
Kelly last month dismissed direct aid to anti-abortion centers, calling them “largely unregulated” and saying, “This is not an evidence-based approach or even an effective method of preventing unplanned pregnancies.”
Anti-abortion advocates argued that providing financial support to their centers would help ensure people facing unplanned pregnancies have good alternatives if they are unsure about having an abortion.
House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Republican from Wichita, said in a statement that Kelly had “political bias against supporting vulnerable new mothers.”
Although lawmakers still had the opportunity to override Kelly’s veto, they did not initially pass the tax law with the required two-thirds majority.
The other bill Kelly vetoed was part of an ongoing backlash from conservative lawmakers over the way they, other state officials and local officials sought to stem the spread of COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021. They have been particularly critical of orders to close schools and businesses during the first few months of the pandemic and later business restrictions and mask requirements.
“She said no to protecting the Kansans’ freedom of health and limiting the powers of unelected bureaucrats,” Senate President Ty Masterson, another Wichita-area Republican, said in a statement.
But Republicans were divided on the measure because some feared it would go too far and limit the powers of state and local officials during outbreaks.
It would have stripped local officials of the power to ban public gatherings and removed the requirement for local law enforcement officials to enforce orders from public health officials. These officials would also have lost their power to order quarantines for infected people.
The governor-appointed head of the state health department would have lost the power to issue orders and enact new health regulations to prevent the spread of disease or order people to get tested or receive treatment for infectious diseases.
Kelly’s veto message said Kansas had been a pioneer in public health policy. A century ago, the state’s chief health official, Dr. Samuel Crumbine, internationally known for campaigning against unsanitary, disease-spreading practices such as spitting on sidewalks and the use of shared drinking cups on railway lines and in public buildings.
“Yet lawmakers continue to seek to undermine the advances that have saved lives in every corner of our state,” Kelly wrote.
The bill also reflected anti-vaccination influence on conservative Republican lawmakers.
It would have prevented the head of the state Department of Health and Human Services from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for children entering school or daycare — something Kelly’s administration says it has no plans to do. State and local officials also could not have cited a person’s lack of vaccination as a reason for recommending self-isolation.
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