In a surprising move, Gov. Laura Kelly signed Monday a bill to ban sanctuary cities in Kansas, a move that will effectively neuter a local ordinance in Kansas City, Kan that has long been desired by community members there.
The announcement came hours after groups in Wyandotte County rallied together to urge Kelly to reject the measure, putting at odds with those local leaders, including the mayor of Kansas City, Kan.
And the action could hinder enthusiasm among supporters in the area, a traditionally Democrat stronghold, ahead of the 2022 election.
Kelly did veto a trio of other bills, one prohibiting local governments from banning plastic bags and containers, and another expanding short-term health insurance plans, which critics say offers patients insufficient coverage.
But her decision to sign House Bill 2717 will gain the most attention.
Kelly’s decision to sign the bill prompted a rare point of agreement with her likely foe in the governor’s race, GOP Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who was a top supporter of the bill.
In a statement, Kelly called on Congress to enact “comprehensive” immigration reform, saying such an issue “rests with Congress and cannot be resolved at the municipal level.”
“I encourage my colleagues who sent me this bill to persuade our federal delegation to pass comprehensive immigration legislation that allows us to continue growing our economy and meeting our workforce needs here in Kansas,” Kelly said.
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The proposal will effectively halt a Wyandotte County ordinance, approved last month, that prohibits local authorities from working with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
The Wyandotte County ordinance would allow undocumented immigrants to receive a municipal identification card that would be intended to help them access local services.
The legislation would clarify that those ID cards could still be issued but couldn’t be used to satisfy state law for identification purposes, including voting.
Kelly called on legislators to address the municipal ID component in a subsequent bill, saying as written the law will adversely affect “Kansans who rely on local government IDs to vote, such as veterans, the elderly, and people with disabilities.”
It is not the first time in recent months the governor has bucked her own party — all but three legislative Democrats opposed HB 2717 — and elected to sign a particular bill.
Kelly also signed legislation in November following a special session of the legislature making it easier for workers to get out of COVID-19 vaccine mandates while also providing unemployment benefits for unvaccinated people who lose their jobs.
That move brought her heavy criticism from some members of her own party — concerns that will likely be renewed with news of her veto Monday.
“Wow, that is a real kick in the teeth,” Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, Kan. “I understand it is an election year but that’s a kick in the teeth.”
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Local officials, immigration activists pushed for Kelly veto
Tyrone Garner, mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan. said Monday morning he would be reaching out to Kelly personally to urge her to reject the bill.
The local ordinance, he said, was about ensuring all residents could engage with law enforcement, thereby making the community safer.
“I want to make sure that these politically driven initiatives do not take place in Wyandotte County,” Garner said at a virtual press conference held by Wyandotte County activists.
Both Lawrence and Roeland Park have measures similar to what was passed in Kansas City, Kan., though they don’t go as far. Michael Rebne, a city council member in Roeland Park, was sharply critical of efforts to limit local control.
“The fact that majority white communities like ours had been swept up in this cynical move is a clear example of how racism hurts all of us,” Rebne said during the press conference.
But Schmidt and legislative Republicans have argued a patchwork of local ordinances on the matter would be confusing and dangerous.
“The fact that Congress has failed to answer them does not mean we ought to have hundreds of local jurisdictions stepping in to end run the law Congress has enacted,” Schmidt said during a hearing on the bill last month. “That’s all we’re saying here.”
Even if Kelly were to have vetoed the bill, legislators would have had a viable path to enacting the legislation, with the bill passing with two-thirds support in both chambers — the threshold needed to override a veto.
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Kelly vetoes short-term insurance expansion, bill on plastic bag bans
Kelly did reject three other bills.
Senate Bill 199, the legislation expanding short-term insurance plans, was also rejected by the governor in 2021 and lawmakers opted against trying to override her veto.
The insurance plans are generally designed as stop-gap measures to provide insurance for a shorter duration than normal health insurance, such as when someone is between jobs.
But they have been derided as “junk insurance” by critics, who say they have worse coverage and don’t support many pre-existing conditions.
She also vetoed Senate Bill 493, the legislation banning local governments from prohibiting bags, straws and other containers made out or plastic, Styrofoam and other materials, as infringing on the local control of municipal officials.
No municipality in Kansas has such a rule but Wichita has considered the move in the past. Proponents of the bill say it would prevent a patchwork of ordinances locally that could increase costs for businesses.
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Neither bill passed with a two-thirds supermajority in both chambers, the threshold needed to override Kelly’s veto.
And Kelly rejected a final measure, Senate Bill 161, that would have allowed for robotic personal delivery devices on sidewalks and other public areas.
But in her veto message, the governor said the bill had flimsy safety standards and needed further review.
The Legislature must address these safety concerns before this bill becomes law,” she wrote in the message. “I’m ready to work with lawmakers on legislation that allows us to take advantage of technological advances while ensuring the safety of all Kansans.”
Andrew Bahl is a senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 443-979-6100.