Kansas lawmakers on Wednesday opened an investigation into racially charged remarks made by a Wyandotte County lawmaker during a committee hearing on an immigration bill last month.
The panel of six House members — three Republicans and three Democrats — are looking into a complaint brought by nine conservative lawmakers over comments made by Democratic Rep. Valdenia Winn.
It is only the fourth time in the state’s history that lawmakers have looked to punish one of their members for violating legislative rules. The last time, in 2012, came over a procedural maneuver used by a Democratic lawmaker that led to a vote in favor of a property tax relief bill.
The panel did not take testimony Wednesday. It scheduled another meeting for April 30.
The Republican lawmakers are angry over comments Winn made during a March 19 hearing about a bill that would have banned charging in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants. The bill was heard by the House Education Committee. It was later tabled and killed for the session.
Winn referred to the bill’s supporters as “racist bigots” who were employing “Jim Crow tactics” to turn back time.
Conservative lawmakers who brought the complaint said they thought Winn crossed the line of decorum in the Legislature. They resented her attacks on their intentions.
Republican Rep. Jerry Lunn of Overland Park called Winn’s comments about race “clearly wrong.” He said her remarks were “probably the worst thing you can say about somebody.” He called it “race-baiting.”
Republican Rep. Willie Dove of Bonner Springs called Winn’s comments over the top.
“I don’t think I’m a bigot. I don’t think I’m a racist. I’m not that person and I don’t think anybody on the committee is that person,” Dove said. “For her to come across in such a vulgar manner on colleagues is unjust.”
Winn declined to comment after the hearing adjourned Wednesday. She did get the support of her Democratic colleagues.
“I’m extremely disappointed that First Amendment rights have been targeted in this meeting,” said House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs of Kansas City, Kan. “This is the people’s house. Where (else) in America should you be limited on free speech let alone the state capitol.”
Winn could be reprimanded, censured or expelled from the Legislature with a two-thirds vote of the House.