Interest among Kansas GOP for lawsuit challenging line-item veto on K-12 bill may be waning

Gov. Laura Kelly firm in conviction she acted within her legal authority

By: - May 26, 2023 10:37 am
Republican Senate President Ty Masterson and Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly praised a new Kansas law requiring special education services for children with dyslexia. That statute also replaced the toxic label of "emotional disturbance" with a more generic label of "emotional disability." (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said it was unlikely Attorney General Kris Kobach would file a lawsuit against Gov. Laura Kelly challenging the Democrat's line-item vetoes in a K-12 education appropriations bill. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The Kansas Senate president said internal discussions among Republican legislators and the attorney general were unlikely to yield a lawsuit challenging Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s authority to line-item veto provisions of a K-12 appropriations bill.

Senate President Ty Masterson of Andover and House Speaker Dan Hawkins of Wichita initially responded in mid-May by characterizing Kelly’s selective deletions in an education bill as unconstitutional. The bill was cobbled together at close of the annual legislative session by votes of 23-16 in the Senate and 83-37 over in the House.

The GOP leaders encouraged Attorney General Kris Kobach, a Republican, to “immediately review this unconstitutional overreach” with an eye to a legal challenge in state court. They argued the governor had power to veto spending elements of that bill, but not policy pieces.

On Thursday, Masterson said subsequent conversations led to a realization it might not be prudent to file suit raising questions about whether Kelly went beyond her executive authority.

“Those conversations aren’t over over,” the Senate president said, “but I’m handicapping it at about 75% we probably don’t.”

Danedri Herbert, spokesperson for the attorney general, said Friday that lawyers in Kobach’s office were “still reviewing the issue.”

Kelly cast aside a provision of Senate Bill 113 that would have diminished funding for some public school districts. She said the offensive portion could have been especially “dangerous and devastating” to rural districts with shrinking enrollments.

In the past, the Legislature made a conscious effort to keep pure policy out of budget bills. That procedural barrier has eroded as legislative leaders in Kansas sought to weave controversial policies into appropriation bills. The governor said the result in this instance was a K-12 spending bill for the 2023-2024 academic year clearly subject to line-item veto.

She also said the Republican-led Legislature ought to expect a similar response from her to bills structured in a similar manner.

“If they continue to put really bad policy in appropriations bills, I probably would continue to line-item,” Kelly said. “I like to operate within my legal authority.”

Senate Democratic Leader Dinah Sykes, who voted against the K-12 bill, said during an interview the House and Senate should place budget and policy in separate bills.

She said merging the two was a political tactic to pressure legislators into voting for ideas that might not independently pass. In this instance, she said, an incumbent voting “no” on the K-12 legislation risked having their district bombarded with misleading attack mailers in the 2024 election.

“Postcard votes make a difference for some people,” Sykes said. “I’ve had senators talk to me saying, ‘You know, you just voted against spending on our schools.’ And, I said, ‘I just voted against bad policy.'”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.