Lawmakers disregard and decry Gov. Laura Kelly as they move to sweep away her vetoes

Andrew Bahl Titus Wu
Topeka Capital-Journal
The Kansas House took several votes to override Gov. Laura Kelly's vetoes on a slate of legislation Monday at the Statehouse.

Legislators disregarded Gov. Laura Kelly's veto of a controversial slate of tax cuts Monday, securing enough votes to ensure the legislation becomes law.

It is part of a bevy of override votes set to take place in the coming days, as Republican members push to roll back Kelly's efforts to reject six pieces of legislation — the most vetoes since the days of Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius over a decade ago.

"We passed a lot of common sense measures," House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said during a House Republican caucus meeting. "One person — the governor — doesn't agree with them."

More:Kansas' fiscal future improves slightly, setting up potential spending battles

Democrats, including Kelly, have slammed the measure of being reminiscent of tax policy pursued under Gov. Sam Brownback in 2012, with the so-called Kansas experiment plaguing the state's bottom line until it was repealed in 2017.

In her veto message, Kelly argued the legislation would have a similarly destructive effect on the state budget — an argument which took a hit when officials projected the state would have a $1.1 billion budget surplus after months of better-than-expected tax collections.

Ryckman argued the comparison to the Brownback era was far-fetched, saying the state was "in the best fiscal shape" ever.

But Kelly called the override vote on the tax bill to be "reckless" and "shortsighted."

“It’s as if legislative leaders want to return to the days of budget crises, gutting transportation spending, and 4-day school weeks," Kelly said in a statement. "I’ve never met a Kansan who wants that."

Proponents cheer effort to give Kansans 'a tax cut'

The wide-ranging bill has an estimated price tag of $284 million over three years and does include some elements with bipartisan support. 

Chief among those is an increase to the standard deduction, as well as a so-called "marketplace facilitator" provision to levy sales tax on out-of-state merchants, such as Amazon or eBay, that conduct a transaction on behalf of a third-party vendor.

But the main target of criticism is a move to carve out provisions of the state tax code from the federal bill.

One of those changes would give businesses greater flexibility to bring profits from overseas affiliates on some items, such as intellectual property, back into Kansas without paying taxes on them.

Other elements of the bill would allow residents to itemize on their state tax return, regardless of whether they itemize on their federal payments, allowing them to take advantage of provisions in the federal law that discourage itemization. 

"I don't why we didn't do it three years ago," Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, said. "I guess some people thought we needed the revenue. But it was a tax increase when we did it then."

But Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, said legislators needed to go back to the drawing board.

“Let’s have an honest conversation about how to provide tax relief for all Kansans that does not bust our budget,” Sykes said.

Legislators clear vetoproof majority with razor-thin margin

The Senate had no trouble overriding Kelly's veto, with Sen. Jeff Pittman, D-Leavenworth, joining all Republicans in supporting the measure.

But the vote was tighter in the House, where it passed on a tight 84-39 vote. Three Republican members flipped to supporting the bill after previous opposition.

That included embattled Rep. Mark Samsel, R-Wellsville, who was arrested last week on misdemeanor battery after an alleged altercation with a student while substitute teaching.

Samsel couldn't be reached for comment and House leadership has said they won't call on him to step down until the legal process has run its course. 

Other conservatives played down their change in vote. Rep. Martin Houser, R-Columbus, said he had previously had concerns about the marketplace facilitator provision but decided the harms didn't outweigh the benefits.

"I voted for two or three of those things before," Houser said. "I just changed my mind."

House sweeps aside Kelly's concerns on elections, gun bills

Members also moved to overturn Kelly's vetoes on a range of other bills.

Those include two sets of changes to the state's election laws, both of which have been met with criticism from Democrats for purportedly making it harder for Kansans to vote.

Under House Bill 2183, candidates can no longer aid residents with their ballots and all Kansans risk a misdemeanor if they return more than 10 advance ballots during an election cycle.

More:Critics cry foul over ballot law changes, claiming bill will suppress vote in Kansas

A separate bill, House Bill 2332, would prevent the judicial and executive branches from altering election law without the legislature's consent.

Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, promoted both bills as a series of logical changes and brushed aside arguments from Democrats that the bills would suppress the vote.

"They are trying to muddy the waters and make this look as bad as possible," Carpenter said during the caucus meeting. 

But Rep. Brandon Woodard, D-Lenexa, said the bill "would criminalize successfully turning in a ballot."

"We should make it easier for people to vote," Woodard said on the floor. "Everything that it is nefarious is already a crime ... whether we pass this or not."

Lawmakers also moved to overturn Kelly's veto on House Bill 2058, which allows 18- to 20-year-olds to conceal carry.

Critics have argued it is a mistake expanding state law to include young adults, although proponents have pointed to a requirement mandating training for that age group. 

More:Lowering of concealed carry age requirement, tighter election laws vetoed by Gov. Kelly

"It is a step forward in allowing someone who is 18-20 … if they want to do it concealed, they have to take that training," Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, R-Galena, said.

And both chambers voted to enact into law House Bill 2166, which establishes a range of charitable license plates, including a controversial Gadsen flag plate to support the Kansas State Rifle Association.

In her veto message, Kelly said the "Don't tread on me" flag was a symbol of division and Democrats have pointed to the fact that Gadsen, a prominent official in South Carolina during the American Revolution, owned slaves.