The Kansas House of Representatives has failed to override Gov. Laura Kelly's veto of a transgender-exclusionary school sports bill, meaning the legislation is dead for this session.
The House did come close to overriding the veto -- the vote, which took place Thursday, was 81-41 in favor of an override, but that fell short of the 84 votes needed for the required two-thirds majority, the Associated Press reports. The Kansas Senate had voted Tuesday to override Kelly's veto with a margin of 28-10, meeting the two-thirds threshold, but the supermajority was required in both chambers. This is the second consecutive year that Kelly, a Democrat in a Republican-dominated state, has vetoed such legislation.
The bill would have barred trans girls and women from participating alongside cisgender females in public schools, including state colleges and universities, and any private schools that compete against them. It would not have affected trans male athletes.
"We all want a fair and safe place for our kids to play and compete," Kelly wrote in a veto message earlier this month. "However, this bill didn't come from the experts at our schools, our athletes, or the Kansas State High School Activities Association. It came from politicians trying to score political points."
Opponents of the bill, such as Rep. Stephanie Byers, the only trans person in the Kansas legislature, have pointed out that trans athletes make up a tiny minority of school sports participants in the state and that bills like this serve only to further oppress an already marginalized community. They're all about "bullying somebody who's different," Byers recently told the Kansas Reflector.
Byers was the subject of hateful comments in the past few days. Republican Rep. Cheryl Helmer had sent an email to a constituent saying Helmer objected to sharing a restroom with a "huge transgender female," meaning Byers. Helmer also falsely claimed that trans people are assaulting young girls in restrooms.
Byers referred to the matter while speaking on the House floor, The Topeka Capital-Journal reports. "If the events of this week do not indicate that this is not about athletics, I'm not sure what does," she said.
The Human Rights Campaign praised Kelly and those who voted to sustain her veto. "This harmful legislation has no place in Kansas or any other state. Kansans deserve better than legislators who bully transgender youth -- youth who pose no threat and just want to play sports with their friends," Cathryn Oakley, HRC's state legislative director and senior counsel, said in a press release.
While Kelly's veto held up, that was not the case in two other states this year -- in both Kentucky and Utah, legislators overrode governors' vetoes of anti-trans sports legislation.
In Kansas, the House also failed to override Kelly's veto of a so-called parents' rights bill, which would have required school boards to adopt policies providing for parental review of materials and processes for parents to seek removal. Opponents said teachers regularly make lesson plans available to parents anyway.
The bill, which originated in the Senate, focused on curriculum dealing with race, although parents would have a right to object to anything. A similar bill in the House focused on sexual content. An early version of the House bill cited "homosexuality" as "harmful to minors," but the language was amended to make it more general. In any case, the House bill failed to advance beyond the committee stage. Florida's more specific -- and infamous -- "don't say gay" law was touted as a "parents' rights" measure too.