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  • Writer's pictureTim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Kansas Legislature votes to affirm $15.7 million contribution to Texas border security

Updated: May 9

Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican who recently toured a militarized Texas border area, urged the Kansas Legislature to override Gov. Laura Kelly's veto of a $15.7 million appropriation to be used for deploying Kansas National Guard troops to Texas. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

By Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — The House and Senate provided supermajority votes Monday to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of $15.7 million earmarked for deployment of Kansas National Guard troops in support of the Texas Republican governor’s campaign to deter undocumented immigrants from crossing the Rio Grande.

The vote in the Senate was 28-12, and the House echoed that sentiment 84-41.

Kelly line-item vetoed the provision in a budget bill that was originally approved based on assertions the state’s investment in national security could help prevent unauthorized entry, including movement north of people intent on harming the United States. Other southern-border threats raised by override supporters were human trafficking, gang violence, foreign acquisition of farmland and importation of fentanyl, a drug linked to the spike in U.S. overdose deaths.

In Kansas, the governor serves as commander in chief of the Air and Army National Guard forces. Kelly, not the Legislature, has authority to deploy men and women in the Kansas Guard.

“When a governor deploys soldiers as part of a federal mission, it is done intentionally and in a manner that ensures we are able to protect our communities and that we do not threaten Guard readiness or limit our ability to respond to natural disasters at home,” Kelly said.

Senate President Ty Masterson, the Andover Republican who made the override motion in the Senate, said he recently visited the city of Eagle Pass where Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the Texas National Guard to oust the U.S. Border Patrol from a migrant processing center in Shelby Park. The state converted into a military installation the 47-acre city park on the Rio Grande named for a Confederal general.

Masterson said he accepted the invitation of a Texas state senator to go to the border to better assess whether the $15.7 million was a reasonable expenditure and not “kind of a political game.” Critics of the budget provision, including Democratic Rep. Henry Helgerson of Wichita, had accused Republicans of delving into this border security issue to undermine Kelly or embarrass President Joe Biden.

“Every state in the nation is a border state at this point,” Masterson said. “Let Kansas be a part of it. It’s not much short of an invasion. We’re a little isolated up here, but it’s coming.”

House Majority Leader Chris Croft, R-Overland Park, said reversal of the governor’s veto left open the possibility of deploying Kansas Guard men and women to the border.

“We are authorizing the funding needed to deploy the Kansas National Guard if and when Governor Kelly chooses to send troops to assist Governor Abbott with the humanitarian crisis taking place on the Texas southern border,” Croft said.


‘A political stunt’

Democrats questioned whether the $15.7 million would make a difference in Texas and reminded their Republican brethren passage of the budget measure was a “pointless exercise” because constitutional authority to deploy the Kansas Guard rested with the Kansas governor.

“I hope that folks get whatever messaging points they want to get out of it,” said Sen. Ethan Corson, a Johnson County Democrat. “No matter what we do, it’s really going to have little effect. This is, to me, all about just a political stunt. It does not change the fact that, as much as the Senate president, as much as the speaker of the House, might want to be commander in chief of the National Guard, the fact is, they are not.”

Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said funding to support Texas’ effort to turn away immigrants was an indication the quality of work done by the Legislature on the state budget during his 22 years as a legislator had “gotten more and more suspect.”

“I do not understand the reality in which certain people in this chamber reside,” the senator said. “Given the untold needs that our citizens have in this state, the mere idea that we would take millions of dollars and send it to another state — for what gain?”

Sen. Usha Reddi, a Manhattan Democrat, said the expenditure by Kansas wouldn’t resolve border problems that had simmered for decades. She warned that next year the Legislature could end of throwing $15 million, $30 million or more at the federal immigration stalemate.


‘Can’t be squandered’

Sen. Mark Steffen, a Reno County Republican who supported the override and blasted Biden for undermining former President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration, asked the Senate president for an assurance there would accountability for expenditure of Kansas tax dollars.

“Help me understand how we can take Kansas money and use it effectively in Texas — just to make sure we feel good … that money is not being squandered like so much of it is by our federal government in foreign countries?” Steffen said.

Masterson said the funding “can’t be squandered” because it would be tied directly to deployed Kansas Guard troops. “If there’s no boot on the ground, there’s no money spent,” he said.

While GOP lawmakers pointed a finger at Biden, none mentioned Trump’s role in scuttling in February a bipartisan congressional deal for tougher immigration laws. It was argued Republicans could leverage inaction on immigration to their advantage in the 2024 election cycle.

Goodland Sen. Rick Billinger, the Republican chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said skeptics of the state’s contribution to Texas’ anti-immigration action should “open your eyes.” He said an estimated 300 people on terrorist watch lists had slipped across the southern border before their identity could be determined. People pouring into the United States weren’t parents with children keen to start a new life, he said.

“I seen the videos,” Billinger said. “These weren’t men, women and children. These were young men.”


What took so long?

Sen. Jeff Longbine, a Republican from Emporia, said immigration was the policy and financial domain of the federal government and Congress had repeatedly failed to deliver. It wasn’t clear the governor would send Kansas Guard troops to the border or whether that would make a difference in Texas, he said.

“I do know that our immigration laws are a mess,” Longbine said. “Our federal delegation, or Congress, has failed to act.”

He said more than half the students in K-12 public schools in Emporia were Hispanic. He voted for the override on behalf of immigrants who took the time and effort to gain legal status in the United States. “These people are friends. They are neighbors. They are relatives,” he said.

Sen. Alicia Straub, R-Ellinwood, said a letter drafted in September by GOP Rep. Trevor Jacobs of Fort Scott called on the governor to send military forces to Texas. It was signed by about 20 of the state’s 165 legislators. Straub asked Masterson whether it took a trip to the border for him to realize there was a problem.

“I got tired of writing letters,” Masterson said. “It was time to do something real.”

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