TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans on Wednesday pushed a resolution through the Kansas House expressing the state's solidarity with Israel and condemning Hamas militants as “terrorists” after an 11-day war this month in the Gaza Strip.
The House voted 83-27 in favor of the resolution, which will be sent to Israeli government representatives in the U.S. It inspired a brief but intense debate, with two of the Legislature's most liberal members arguing that the measure ignored abuses by the Israeli government against Palestinians.
The resolution was the Legislature's last order of business before members adjourned for the year. Republicans in both chambers approved another non-binding resolution calling on Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly to end extra unemployment benefits in Kansas that were provided under federal coronavirus relief legislation, in the latest attempt by Republicans to ratchet up pressure on her.
The resolution on Israel said Kansas views Israel as “a trusted ally" and “endeavors to work toward peace" while ensuring "security for Israel's people, neighbors and citizens of the world."
“They've been a great partner to us, and we just wanted to acknowledge that to them,” said state Rep. Chris Croft, an Overland Park Republican.
The Kansas House's brief debate came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to the Mideast to announce initiatives aimed at bolstering the Palestinian government and promising that President Joe Biden's administration was committed to rebuilding the United States' relationship with Palestinians.
The Kansas House's resolution did not mention the war, which killed more than 250 people, mostly Palestinians, and caused heavy destruction. Instead, it condemned Hamas' rocket attacks on Israeli cities.
The resolution also didn't mention questions about Israel’s policing of Palestinians or the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.
Democratic state Rep. Boog Highberger, of Lawrence, argued that Palestinians have been “under occupation” for decades. He said lawmakers should call for lasting peace and dignity for Arabs instead of "supporting the murder of civilians.”
And Democratic state Rep. Aaron Coleman, of Kansas City, Kansas, who is Jewish, said: “The American revolutionaries — they used violence to get our independence, and now the Palestinians are using the same tactics that George Washington embraced to get their independence.”
All votes against the resolution came from Democrats, but four voted yes. Seven Republicans and eight Democrats were either absent or did not vote.
Rep. Tatum Lee-Hahn, a Ness City Republican, suggested that backing Israel is necessary for "God's blessing and favor in your life.”
The other resolution, approved 27-11 in the Senate and 79-38 in the House, largely along party lines, comes with Republicans, business groups and companies pushing Kelly to end an extra $300 a week in unemployment benefits. Kelly has said she is reviewing the issue.
Republicans argued the extra aid creates a “perverse incentive” that keeps unemployed workers from accepting jobs, hindering businesses and hurting the economy. Democrats said the move would hurt struggling families, and people aren't taking jobs because of concerns about child care and COVID-19. They also suggested that workers are benefitting from employers having to raise wages to attract them.
Meanwhile, the Legislature's top eight leaders, six currently Republicans, postponed until Friday a decision on extending a state of emergency for the coronavirus pandemic. It expires Friday, and Kelly must get top lawmakers' approval to retain it.
Lawmakers did not override Kelly's recent vetoes of GOP legislation on health insurance and compensating businesses for pandemic losses.
Also, GOP senators picked Sen. Larry Alley, of Winfield, as their new majority leader. Republicans had ousted Sen. Gene Suellentrop, of Wichita, as majority leader in April after he was charged with drunken driving and a felony charge of attempting to elude law enforcement for driving the wrong way on a highway in Topeka.
Alley, a retired aircraft manufacturing planner, was first elected to the Senate in 2016. He had been serving as assistant majority leader and had handled most of Suellentrop's duties after Suellentrop's arrest in mid-March.
Andy Tsubasa Field contributed to this report.
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