Kansas House rejects governor’s veto of bill expanding limits on access to food subsidies
House votes to thwart veto of bill granting $2 million to pregnancy resource centers
GOP Rep. Brenda Landwehr of Wichita, left, and Democratic Rep. Susan Ruiz of Shawnee verbally spar on merits of Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of $2 million earmarked for pregnancy resource centers. The House voted to override Kelly, but the Senate has yet to act. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — The Kansas House gathered the two-thirds majority Wednesday to initiate an override Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of legislation stripping federally funded food assistance from people 50 to 59 years of age not working at least 30 hours a week or taking part in employment training.
The second step in the process of reviving House Bill 2094 would transpire across the rotunda in the Kansas Senate. The Senate vote on an override, which would require support from 27 of the 40 senators, was anticipated Thursday.
The House voted 84-40 — the minimum necessary for an override in the House — to reject Kelly’s veto of the bill denying Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits from able-bodied adults without dependents and not employed at least 30 hours a week or participating in a work training program. In 2022, the Legislature pushed through a law similarly restricting SNAP assistance to abled-bodied men and women age 18 to 49.
In addition, the bill would require parents to cooperate with state child support investigations as a condition of qualifying for a child care subsidy through the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
“You can’t just give something for nothing,” said Rep. Francis Awerkamp, a Republican from St. Marys who led debate on this House override.
Reps. Dan Hawkins of Wichita and Sean Tarwater of Stilwell said the bottom line was taking a step to compel people to join the workforce. Hawkins said there were 2.5 jobs for every person available to work in Kansas, and food aid should be tied to a measurable effort by individuals to contribute to the economy.
“We have a workforce development nightmare in the state of Kansas,” Tarwater said. “Make them go back to work.”
On the other hand, Reps. Linda Featherston of Overland Park and John Carmichael of Wichita pointed to biblical principles of caring for the poor as justification for siding with Kelly on the veto. Featherston read a section of Matthew 25, which said: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”
“I never heard Jesus say, ‘Take food from the hungry,'” Carmichael said.
Republicans rejected concerns raised by Latino and Black Democrats apprehensive House Bill 2350 would be used by law enforcement for racial profiling. Kelly vetoed the measure supporters said would crack down on human smuggling, but Democrats said it was written broadly so it could be used to punish anyone who helped an immigrant.
Rep. John Alcala, a Topeka Democrat, warned of unintended consequences.
“It’s more than just about a human smuggling bill,” Alcala said. “It really is about profiling and it could create tons of racial tensions. I think the bill is very, very targeted for people from Latin American countries that come here to work because our people and your people wont.”
Rep. Carrie Barth, a Baldwin City Republican, said intent of the bill was to get at human trafficking by smugglers, referred to as “a coyote,” who took advantage of people easily indebted to ruthless traffickers. “And they can never get out of this servant, slavery way of living life,” Barth said.
Rep. Susan Ruiz, a Shawnee Democrat, said Barth’s use of the word “coyote” was a reminder the bill targeted “a particular group of people.”
“I’ve been profiled — I can’t tell you how many times — just because of the color of my skin,” Ruiz said. “In the summer, I get a little darker, so I get stopped.”
Rep. Ford Carr, D-Wichita, said he was appalled the House considered an override of Kelly’s veto on misguided trafficking legislation. He told House colleagues they would never have to experience what he, a Black man, or members of the Latino community experienced.
“Look in the mirror and ask yourself who you are and what you stand for,” Carr said.
The House voted 85-39 to override the veto, with the Senate vote not yet having taken place.
The $2 million initiative
The House also voted 86-38 to override Kelly’s veto of a budget provision earmarking $2 million to an estimated 50 pregnancy resource centers in the state. The Senate hasn’t taken up the series of line-item vetoes made by Kelly in the state budget, including the appropriation for this category of counseling center.
Kelly said she vetoed the appropriation in House Bill 2184 because the Legislature took the unusual approach of funneling the money through the state treasurer’s office and made Treasurer Steven Johnson responsible for awarding a contract to a nonprofit or company to administer the initiative. Ordinarily, contracting of this sort would be handled through the Kansas Department of Administration.
“There must have been some confusion between the appropriations committee and the governor’s office,” said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita. “Kansas has not had an reports on ‘bad’ pregnancy resource centers. Get your facts straight.”
Rep. Lindsay Vaughn, D-Overland Park, said the measure was in the form of a proviso, rather than a stand-alone bill, to avoid the regular level of legislative scrutiny. She said an existing state program and county health departments offered services that would be available through pregnancy resource centers. The Democrat pushed back on the GOP’s decision to sidestep Department of Administration oversight of the program.
“What does the treasurer know about family planning?” Vaughn said. “What does the treasurer know about women’s health?”
Vaughn speculated Kansans for Life, the anti-abortion lobbying organization, would probably be awarded the contract by Johnson. Landwehr, however, said KFL was an unlikely choice to take control of the $2 million, in part, because the organization wasn’t equipped to do that type of administrative work for the state.
Johnson, a former Republican member of the House, said the treasurer’s office employed people with experience handling issuance of a request for proposal and the office would make certain the contracting process was fully transparent.
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