GOP lawmakers using budget to pressure Kansas’ governor on DEI and immigration

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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 restrict diversity initiatives on college campuses and help Texas in its fight with the Biden administration over border security.

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

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

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

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But Republicans in the Kansas Senate then added an extra $15.7 million in the next state budget with directions to Gov. Laura Kelly that she provide 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 appeared before Kelly and top legislative leaders and confirmed that they were not requiring prospective students, job applicants or staffers seeking promotion to provide statements endorsing diversity, equity or inclusion initiatives or discussing past experiences with it. The GOP budget negotiators agreed to retain those provisions unless a separate bill banning the practice becomes law.

The state constitution gives Kelly the power to veto individual budget provisions, and it’s not clear that the immigration or anti-DEI ones have the two-thirds majorities in both chambers needed to override a veto. But if Kelly were to veto the anti-DEI provisions, the $35.7 million would go with them.

“It’s kind of like blackmail,” said Democratic state Rep. Tom Sawyer, of Wichita.

Republicans in at least 20 states have sought to limit DEI initiatives, arguing that they are discriminatory and enforce a liberal political orthodoxy. Alabama and Utah enacted new anti-DEI laws this year.

The Kansas House last month approved a bill that would bar universities, community colleges or technical colleges from basing a student’s admission or an employee’s hiring or promotion on any statement or pledge about DEI or “any political ideology or movement.” Republicans are hoping to have a vote on a new version in both chambers this week.

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

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

Republicans’ interest in border security comes with former President Donald Trump ramping up anti-immigrant rhetoric as he campaigns for reelection, often spreading falsehoods about migration. Roughly two-thirds of Americans disapproved of 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 frame 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 need to stop it,” said state Sen. J.R. Claeys, a central Kansas Republican and a budget negotiator. “Obviously, 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 Kansas City-area Democrat, said problems at the border demonstrate the need for reforming national 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 every possible thing on immigration in on immigrants,” she said.

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

But Claeys responded: “We also have other budgetary ways of making things happen, so we’ll continue to use those and the power of the purse.”

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