Legislation banning transgender athletes from girl’s and women’s sports died in the Kansas Senate Monday when lawmakers fell one vote short of overriding Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto.
Kelly vetoed the bill last month, calling it discriminatory and citing concerns over lost economic opportunities for the state.
In a statement Monday she said the policy was “mean-spirited, divisive, and unnecessary.”
Opponents of the bill and LGBTQ advocates have warned for months that the measure could lead to bullying and suicide of transgender youth.
Proponents contended that transgender athletes hold an unfair advantage when participating in sports. Senate President Ty Masterson called claims of bullying and discrimination a “distraction.”
“There is something discriminatory,” he said. “But it’s against that little girl or that college woman.”
No current Kansas students would be impacted by the bill, the Kansas High School Athletics and Activities association said last month.
The bill was passed last month just one vote short of a veto-proof majority in the Senate. Several moderate Republicans, including Sens. Carolyn McGinn and John Doll, who did not vote, joined Democrats in opposition Monday.
Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, said Monday’s vote was the hardest he had ever made and that he understood both sides of the issue. His decision to vote against it, he said, came down to economics.
“I do feel like there are many sports entities, national organizations that will look to venues like Kansas to see how broad the opportunities will be,” Haley said.
Despite the bill’s failure Sen. Renee Erickson, a Wichita Republican, and Brittany Jones of the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas each said they would continue pushing for the policy in this session and in the future.
It is likely to be a campaign issue in 2022.
“This is an issue Kansans care about, this is an issue that Kansans will make decisions on who they want representing them in the Legislature and as Governor,” Jones said.
Tom Witt, Executive Director of Equality Kansas said he would continue fighting the policy if and when it returns. He and Rep. Stephanie Byers, a Wichita Democrat and the state’s first transgender lawmaker, praised the Senators who voted against the bill.
“The fact that we have people who are willing to step up and say no, we’re not going to discriminate in Kansas, we’re not going to let this go through, we’re gonna sustain the governor’s veto fills my heart so much,” Byers said.
“We live in a country that we’re watching as our society evolves, we move forward ... and it’s going to keep rolling because, as a country, we are more loving and accepting.”
According to the American Civil Liberties Union Kansas is one of 31 states where legislation banning transgender youth from girl’s and women’s sports have been introduced. U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall has pushed for similar legislation on a federal level.
In Missouri, lawmakers debated the policy last month when it was added as an amendment to another bill. No final action has been taken.
The ACLU of Kansas pledged to sue if the bill had passed and in the bill’s fiscal note the Kansas Attorney General’s office said such litigation would likely be drawn out and costly.
The NCAA said last month it would “closely monitor” states considering such legislation in considering whether to place tournaments there.
In Kansas, Wichita is set to host the first and second rounds of the 2025 Division I men’s basketball championship and 2024 NCAA Division II wrestling national championships. Wichita will also host the regional rounds in the 2022 NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament.