Kansas lawmakers override vetoes on taxes, guns, elections
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican lawmakers on Monday cut Kansas’ income taxes, lowered the age for carrying a concealed gun and tightened state election laws by overriding Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s vetoes of those measures.
A series of votes in the GOP-controlled Legislature demonstrated that its Republican supermajorities can control policy — and push the state back to the right — if they hold together. Centrist and left-of-center activists took Kelly’s election in 2018 as a sign that voters were repudiating conservative management of state government, but elections in 2020 moved the Legislature to the right.
“They listened to folks back home,” House Speaker Tem Blaine Finch, an Ottawa Republican, said of GOP lawmakers. “It’s because of, really, the grassroots in their communities telling (them), ‘Hey, this is important to us.’”
But Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Lenexa Democrat, derided the “veto override-a-rama.”
“Today leaves no doubt: The Kansas Legislature is more extreme than ever,” she said in a statement.
Republican leaders realized their goal of tax relief for individuals and businesses that have been paying more in state income taxes because of changes in federal tax laws at the end of 2017. The measure will save Kansas taxpayers about $284 million over three years.
A key change will allow people to claim itemized deductions on their state returns even if they don’t on their federal returns. The federal tax changes in 2017 discouraged itemizing, making some Kansans unable to itemize on their state returns.
“This bill corrects a huge injustice for our middle-income taxpayers,” said Republican Sen. Jeff Longbine, of Emporia.
Democrats criticized the bill because it also contained tax relief for some large businesses. Kelly vetoed two tax-cutting bills in 2019, and she called this year’s bill “reckless” and “short-sighted.”
She suggested Republicans were moving back toward a nationally notorious tax-cutting experiment in 2012 and 2013 under then-GOP Gov. Sam Brownback. Those cuts were followed by persistent budget shortfalls and were mostly repealed in 2017.
“It’s as if legislative leaders want to return to the days of budget crises,” Kelly said in a statement. “I’ve never met a Kansan who wants that.”
The Legislature overrode Kelly’s veto of a bill that would create a special concealed carry permit for 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds, and that’s a major victory for gun-rights advocates. The state already allows people 21 and older to carry concealed guns without a permit and adults can carry them openly, but Kelly’s election had advocates of tougher gun laws hoping for a roll back of Kansas’ generally loose policies.
Republicans overturned Kelly’s veto of an elections bill making it harder for individuals and groups to collect absentee ballots and deliver them for voters. It will be a misdemeanor for someone to collect and return more than 10 ballots.
GOP lawmakers said they are preventing fraud, arguing that the more people who handle absentee ballots, the more likely those ballots are to go missing or be altered.
“Having someone cherry pick whose ballot gets picked up and turned in is not appropriate,” Finch said.
But Republicans are curbing a practice used by some Democrats and Democratic-leaning groups for decades to help disabled, elderly and poor voters.
“We should be making it easier for people to legitimately vote,” said Rep. Brett Parker, an Overland Park Democrat.
Republicans also overrode Kelly’s veto of a bill expanding the number of specialty license plates available to drivers willing to pay an extra fee. The votes were 86-37 in the House and 28-12 in the Senate.
The governor and other Democrats objected to a provision allowing a special plate featuring a coiled snake and a “Don’t Tread on Me” slogan. They’re featured on what’s known as the Gadsen flag, after its Revolutionary War-era creator, who owned a wharf where an estimated 100,000 African slaves arrived. Critics also see the flag as a symbol of white supremacist and alt-right groups.
Supporters of the bill rejected those associations. The money raised by the $25 fee would go to the Kansas State Rifle Association.
Andy Tsubasa Field is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.