Gov. Kelly signs budget bill after eliminating 18 provisions with line-item vetoes

photo by: Associated Press

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly answers questions during a news conference, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly exercised authority Monday to line-item veto 18 elements of a budget bill before signing the remainder allocating new funding for newborn screenings, mental health prevention and crisis services, and programs for people with intellectual disabilities and in long-term nursing care.

She discarded provisions cutting her out of the state’s decisions on use of federal COVID-19 aid and another forcing a 2% budget cut at agencies that didn’t adopt a performance-based budget system. She deleted from the bill a prohibition on mask mandates, including at 4-H gatherings. Ousted were measures shifting $10 million in higher education money to a building maintenance program, ending a moratorium on admissions to state psychiatric hospitals and requiring state agencies and contractors to rely on the E-Verify system to confirm job applicants’ immigration status.

“While I support the majority of the provisions in this budget, there are items that have either been resolved in existing legislation or that would be better addressed not in this budget but through better collaboration between agencies and stakeholders,” Kelly said. “Other provisions tie funding mandates or prohibitions to blanket policies that should either be more narrowly tailored or independently vetted on their own merits through the regular legislative process.”

The governor also recoiled from a requirement that the Kansas Highway Patrol sell two aircraft and buy one as well as equalize pay between KHP troopers and Capitol Police officers. The governor refused to go along with the Legislature’s preference that Room 221-E at the Capitol be converted from office space into a meditation room. She balked at a section blocking state funding to any public broadcaster that moved its offices to a new city.

In addition, she vetoed $300,000 for the Hope Ranch for Women organization in Andover for a pilot program to combat human trafficking. Hope Ranch is a faith-based equine-assisted learning, mentoring and residential home for women dealing with spiritual, mental or physical exploitation. Operators of the facility say the goal was to help survivors “experience God’s love and grace” and live in the “fullness of who God created them to be.”

“If the Legislature wishes to establish a new program to provide more funding to organizations doing this critical work, it should send a fully vetted piece of legislation to my desk after thorough legislative, stakeholder and public review,” the governor said.

Kelly said the Legislature and the governor’s office should work together to appropriate resources to critical areas of state government once lawmakers return to the Capitol on May 3. She said the to-do list included adequate and equitable funding of K-12 public schools, a 2.5% salary increase for state workers and restoration of cuts to state agencies made as a precautionary move due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Legislature folded into House Bill 2007 a plan allocating nearly $20 billion for state government operations. The House and Senate reserved time in the session to grapple with the governor’s alteration of the budget and to consider overriding eight bills that she rejected.

Kelly said she was grateful the Legislature expeditiously approved a budget that included enhancements for the most vulnerable Kansans, including those in long-term care and people with intellectual disabilities. The budget also expanded state spending on mental health prevention and crisis services as well as newborn screening.

“I look forward to working with the Legislature to address the critical funding measures that must be passed,” she said.

The budget bill subject to the line-item vetoes was adopted by the House 71-52 and by the Senate 21-14 and attracted opposition from Republicans and Democrats in both chambers.

• Tim Carpenter is a reporter for Kansas Reflector.


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