Republican lawmakers are using the budget to pressure the Kansas governor on DEI and immigration

By | April 3, 2024

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Republicans are likely to approve a proposed state budget for Kansas with provisions aimed at forcing the state’s Democratic governor to limit diversity initiatives on college campuses and aid Texas in its battle with the Biden administration over border security.

Republican negotiators for the state House and Senate have agreed to include these items in a single bill that includes most of the $25 billion in spending for Kansas’ 2025 budget year, which begins July 1. Top Republicans in the Republican Party-controlled Legislature expect both chambers to vote on the final version of the bill this week.

“It’s an opportunity to make a point,” Senate President Ty Masterson, a Wichita-area Republican, said Wednesday. “The power of the wallet – that’s all we have. That is our main strength.”

Both the Kansas House and Senate passed resolutions this year expressing support for efforts by Republican Governor Greg Abbott of Texas to enforce a law there that would allow his state to arrest migrants suspected of entering the U.S. illegally to come. The Biden administration maintains that only the federal government sets immigration policy.

But Republicans in the Kansas Senate then added an additional $15.7 million to the next state budget with directions to the governor. Laura Kelly that she is providing Kansas National Guard resources to Texas.

Republican senators also included provisions to withhold a total of $35.7 million in funding from state universities unless their presidents appear before Kelly and top legislative leaders and confirm that they will not require prospective students, applicants or staffers seeking promotions to make statements endorsing diversity and equality. or inclusion initiatives or discussing past experiences with them. GOP budget negotiators agreed to keep these provisions unless a separate bill banning the practice becomes law.

The state constitution gives Kelly the power to veto individual budget provisions, and it is not clear whether the immigration or anti-DEI provisions in either chamber have the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto to shove. But if Kelly were to veto the anti-DEI provisions, the $35.7 million would go with it.

“It seems a bit like blackmail,” said Democratic state Rep. Tom Sawyer of Wichita.

Republicans in at least two dozen states have tried to limit DEI initiatives, arguing that they are discriminatory and enforce a liberal political orthodoxy. Alabama and Utah passed new anti-DEI laws this year.

The Kansas House last month passed a bill that would prohibit universities, community colleges or technical colleges from basing the admission of a student or the hiring or promotion of an employee on any statement or promise about DEI or “any political ideology or movement.” This week a new version will be voted on in both chambers.

But the Kansas Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s higher education system, is already responding to Republican lawmakers’ concerns. The board expects to consider a proposed policy change in April that would prohibit eligibility or employment requirements for “statements pledging allegiance to, support for, or opposition to diversity, equality, or inclusivity.”

“I really don’t think it’s going to be a problem. I think they’re all going to change their policies,” said state Rep. Kyle Hoffman, a Republican from western Kansas and a House budget negotiator.

Republicans’ interest in border security comes as former President Donald Trump ramps up anti-immigrant rhetoric as he campaigns for re-election, often spreading falsehoods about migration. About two-thirds of Americans disagreed President Joe Biden‘s handling of border security in an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted in March.

GOP officials in many states also view the issue as stopping the flow of the dangerous opioid fentanyl across the Mexico-U.S. border, though experts agree the key is reducing demand for it in the U.S.

“We have to stop this,” said Sen. JR Claeys, a Central Kansas Republican and budget negotiator. “It’s clear the Biden administration isn’t going to do that, so we’re going to have to do it ourselves.”

But state Rep. Susan Ruiz, a Democrat from Kansas City, said problems at the border show the need for reform of the nation’s immigration laws and argued that Americans are more likely to smuggle fentanyl than immigrant families seeking a better life in the U.S.

“They’re willing to blame everything on immigration and immigrants,” she said.

Some Republicans expect Kelly will veto the provision. Last month, she told reporters that the state constitution makes her commander-in-chief of the Guard and that she decides how its resources are used.

But Claeys replied: “We also have other budgetary ways to make things possible, so we will continue to use those and the power of the wallet.”

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