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KS Legislature Session Ends: Winn Complaint Dropped, New Tax Law Decided

Stephen Koranda

Kansas lawmakers wrapped up their annual session on Friday with a decision on a tax bill and the dismissal of a complaint against state Rep. Valdenia Winn.

The last day of the legislative session is normally ceremonial, but this year, work needed to be done.

Kansas lawmakers fixed a tax bill, which Gov. Sam Brownback says he will sign. The measure resolves a conflict caused by the enactment of two versions of a law aimed at holding down local property taxes. The new law is set to take effect in 2018.

A special House committee meanwhile unanimously dismissed a complaint against Rep. Valdenia Winn for comments she made during a House Education Committee Hearing in March.

The panel said Winn’s First Amendement right to free speech was the basis for its decision.

Winn had called supporters of a bill that would deny in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants "racist bigots."

"My view is we should support freedom of speech no matter how irresponsible, slanderous or hurtful that speech may be," said Mark Kahrs, a Wichita Republican who drew jeers from Winn supporters in the standing-room-only audience when he said she should apologize.

According to a transcript of the March 19 meeting, Winn called the bill "an example of institutional racism, not individual racist, institutional racism because it deals with societal structural changes."

After the panel's ruling was announced, Winn said she would not apologize. Her attorney said the nine House members who signed the complaint should instead apologize to her.

Other members of the special committee, which consisted of three Republicans and three Democrats, said they didn't think Winn was addressing individual House Education Committee members in her comments. The bill ultimately was put aside and not brought up again during the session.

Winn, who is black, could have faced discipline including censure or expulsion from the Legislature if she had been found guilty of violating House rules.

Winn told the panel she was simply exercising her freedom of speech when she spoke out against the tuition bill, which she believes unfairly targeted an identified group of students.

The bill ultimately was put aside and not brought up again during the session.