- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas House panel launched an investigation Wednesday into a Democratic lawmaker who labeled as “racist bigots” supporters of a bill that would end college tuition breaks for students living in the U.S. illegally.

A panel of three Republicans and three Democrats was appointed to look into the comments Rep. Valdenia Winn, a Kansas City Democrat, made March 19 during a meeting of the House Education Committee.

Winn, who is black, called the proposal a “racist, sexist, fear-mongering bill” and apologized to the students and parents “whose lives are being hijacked by the racist bigots who support this bill,” according to a transcript of the hearing provided with the complaint.

When Republican Rep. John Barker from Abilene objected to Winn labeling committee members as bigots, Winn responded “I said supporters” and “if the shoe fits, it fits,” according to the transcript.

The investigation was later called after nine GOP lawmakers complained.

Winn declined to comment after the investigative panel’s first meeting on Wednesday.

House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs said in a statement that the Democratic caucus fully supports her.

“This investigation is nothing but an attempt by the majority party to silence a minority voice that dared to speak up in opposition to discrimination,” Burroughs said.

Republican Rep. Barbara Bollier from Mission Hills also defended Winn, saying that representatives should be able to speak their mind freely in debates over bills.

Democratic Rep. Gail Finney from Wichita said that she believed the investigation would reveal “double standards” on offensive speech in the Legislature, referencing past comments made by Rep. Virgil Peck. Peck, a Republican from Tyro, said during a 2011 committee discussion that if shooting “immigrating feral hogs” with rifles from helicopters worked to decrease their populations, the state could have a solution “to our illegal immigration problem.”

Peck later apologized, and a resolution drafted by House Democrats condemning his comments died in committee without being discussed. Winn was one of the resolution’s six sponsors.

Female House members have also criticized comments by Republican Representatives Dick Jones from Topeka and Mike Kiegerl from Olathe, who compared abortion providers to Nazi doctors in debates over an abortion bill this session.

“It does feel like there’s a little sexism there.” Finney said. “We have men saying this all the time in the House of Representatives and there’s nothing done to them, nothing said.”

Winn’s comments crossed the line, however, because they were a personal attack against other committee members supporting the bill, said Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican who was among the lawmakers who filed the complaint.

Republican Rep. Willie Dove from Bonner Springs, who is one of the two black lawmakers who signed the complaint, said that the process is necessary because Winn had made inflammatory comments in debates before. However, he predicted that no one would come out of the investigation looking good.

“It’s embarrassing that we in this day and age have to come to this point where an individual is not apologetic for something they said in the heat of discussion. I don’t think Rep. Winn is a racist, I don’t think she is a bigot, but I think she is wrong,” Dove said.

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