Legislative wrap-up session starts on Wednesday

Apr 29, 2019 by

The part of the 2019 legislative session that begins on Wednesday was once called the “veto session.” This three-day event allowed legislators to deal with possible overrides on bills the Governor might have vetoed between the end of the regular session and this one. But recently, it has become a time when major pieces of legislation finally get passed.

Most notably, school finance and the state budget have been held until this time and that’s why the supposed three-day session often winds up being much longer.

In an unusual twist this year, the school finance bill has already be adopted and signed into law by the Governor! So that means at least one part of the heavy lifting has been done. Will this mean the three-day session will end on Friday? That depends on what’s left.

The Budget

Before the end of the regular session, budget negotiators hit an impasse and decided to wait until this week to finish things up. There wasn’t a lot of disagreement so one might be inclined to think things could go quickly. They have the April revenue estimates so they know what they have to spend so here’s hoping that might be wrapped up in short order.

A new abortion debate

There’s also the outrage among Republican leaders on last week’s Kansas Supreme Court ruling that the state constitution allows for abortion. Whether or not a constitutional amendment will be taken up is a big question out there right now and, as we have seen, abortion legislation can take up a lot of hours in the Statehouse. Some have raised the idea of an outright ban on abortion as a constitutional amendment while others want to amend the constitution to say a woman does not have a constitutional right to an abortion, thereby allowing the legislature to pass more bills restricting that right. This could get ugly and contentious really fast.

KanCare/Medicaid expansion

Finally, there is KanCare expansion. KanCare is the state’s Medicaid program. More than 150,000 Kansans fall into a health coverage gap. They earn too much to qualify for KanCare but not enough to be eligible to get financial help to buy private insurance. Rep. Don Hineman (R-Dighton) explains the issue best:


“Many expansion beneficiaries are the working poor who don’t receive health insurance at work.  They serve in food service, make beds at hotels, and scramble to make ends meet with two or three part-time jobs.  They are young entrepreneurs who have taken a chance on a business which has not yet achieved profitability.  Or it’s someone who wants to take that step but cannot accept the risk, so they stay in a job that isn’t ideal merely to get health insurance.  Individual entrepreneurship is a cornerstone of our free-market system.  But crushing insurance costs are stifling the dreams of too many would-be Kansas entrepreneurs.  Expanding Medicaid creates opportunities for them and for the Kansas economy.”

KNEA supports KanCare expansion. It is good for our health care system – we’ve already lost five rural hospitals due in part to uncompensated care and 86% of Kansas hospitals have negative operating margins. Some of those who would be helped serve our schools such as part-time support service providers like cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and para-professionals. And 90% of the cost of expansion will be paid by the federal government. Tax dollars paid by Kansans would be returned to Kansas in a program that helps the working poor and supports our hospitals.

The Kansas House has already passed expansion this year. In the Senate, there will be a motion to bring the House bill out of committee and onto the Senate floor. That motion requires 24 votes. A subsequent motion to bring the bill up for debate will require 27 votes. The Senate and House both passed expansion in 2017 only to have then-Governor Sam Brownback veto it. This time, Governor Laura Kelly will sign it.

We urge all Kansans to contact their Senator and ask him or her to support three motions: 1) the motion to bring HB 2066 out of committee and to the Senate floor, 2) the motion to bring HB 2066 up for debate and action, and 3) a motion to advance the bill to final action. Then they need to support the bill on a final action vote. Ask them also to oppose all amendments to the bill. Amending it will just throw it to a conference committee and allow time to run out without action.

CLICK Here to write a personal message to your Senator.

CLICK Here to use an email alert from the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas.

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KanCare Expansion in the Senate

Apr 15, 2019 by

On May 1, when the Legislature returns for their wrap-up session, the Senate will consider a motion by Senator Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) to bring HB 2066 out of committee and on to the Senate floor for debate and action.

HB 2066 came to the House floor in a different form than what the Senate will consider but on a motion by Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore (D-Kansas City), the bill was amended to be a Medicaid expansion bill (Medicaid in Kansas is called “KanCare”). The amendment was adopted on a vote of 69 to 53 but only after House leadership tried to stop it by ruling the amendment not germane to the topic in the bill. The House voted to overrule leadership – a very rare action which indicated a strong desire by the majority to act on KanCare/Medicaid expansion.

HB 2066 passed the House on March 21 on a vote of 69 to 54. But since then, leadership in the Senate has done everything in their power to make sure the bill does not get a vote in the Senate.

Polls consistently show that between 70 and 80% of Kansans want the state to adopt expansion. Why? Well, there are several good reasons.

  • All Kansans pay federal income tax and some of that tax money is sent back to states to pay 90% of the cost of Medicaid expansion. The states that don’t expand are leaving those dollars in Washington. Kansas has already forfeited over $3 billion that could be brought back to Kansas in the form of health care for working Kansans.
  • Rural hospitals in Kansas are closing. Five have already closed while others are on the brink of closing. Medicaid expansion would bring health care dollars back into Kansas communities and in-turn support the fiscal health of rural hospitals and the communities they serve.
  • If you have health insurance, your premiums are impacted by those who don’t. People who lack health insurance rely on expensive emergency rooms for care. Covering the cost of that care is part of the reason hospital bills are so high – the cost of the uninsured is passed on to the insured through higher medical bills and insurance premiums. The simple fact is, the more people who have health insurance, the better costs can be contained.

Kansas NEA supports KanCare expansion. It’s good for school employees. Some of the people that our students depend on – bus drivers, cafeteria workers, part time ESP staff – would benefit from expansion. It’s good for children – our students – because learning is very challenging when students must deal with the distress of a sick parent who could be treated with proper coverage.

It’s hard to understand why some legislators are opposed to health care for working Kansans.

The Hensley motion to bring the bill out of committee will take more than the minimum 21 votes – it takes 24 just to get the bill to the floor; it then takes 27 to bring the bill up for action.

In 2017, both the House and Senate voted to expand KanCare only to have it vetoed by Governor Brownback. The House successfully voted to override that veto but the Senate vote to override came up one vote short. This is the same Senate that voted in 2017 with three changes (Eric Rucker for Vicki Schmidt, Kevin Braun for Steve Fitzgerald, and Vic Miller for Laura Kelly). This year, Kansas has a Governor who will sign KanCare expansion into law. The last hurdle is the Kansas Senate.

We urge all Kansans to contact their Senator and urge them to support the Hensley motions to bring HB 2066 to a vote on the Senate floor and then to support HB 2066 for passage. The time for KanCare expansion is NOW. The time to help our rural hospitals, to provide for our working neighbors, to keep our communities strong is NOW.

Take action through the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas (KNEA is a member of the Alliance). Click here.

Want to know more about Medicaid Expansion in Kansas?

To learn more about Medicaid expansion and to watch a short video explaining the “coverage gap,” click here.

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And in conclusion…School Finance!

Apr 4, 2019 by

Rep. Kristey Williams pulled no punches in her criticism of Senators who worked in a bipartisan effort to finally secure constitutional funding for Kansas public schools.

Wednesday; 1:30 PM conference committee meeting

This meeting started with a review by staff on what items had been agreed to and which were still unresolved.

The House then made a counter-offer to the Senate offer on finance made last evening. Here are the House points:

  • Accept the Senate position on bilingual education with advancing the LPA audit by two years,
  • Accept the Senate position not requiring a study of graduation requirements (financial literacy and computer science),
  • Accept the original Senate position on special education funding, keeping the 92% in place as in current law,
  • Maintain the House position on the artificial base for LOB calculation,
  • Maintain the House position on certification of instructional costs,
  • Accept the Senate position on bullying – no new provisions,
  • Maintain the House position on tuition tax credits, changing to the 100 lowest performing elementary schools,
  • Accept the Senate position on bond approval limits (stay with current law),
  • Accept the Senate position on transportation (stay with current law),
  • Reject the Senate’s finance package (same as the KSDE and the Governor),
  • Maintain the current House position on accountability reports,
  • Bring mental health program into the discussion.

Williams used the bulk of the meeting time to chastise the Senate for not accepting the House positions, accusing Senators of not caring about kids who are bullied and who commit suicide while she also attacked their support for the 92% reimbursement standard for special education.

In closing the meeting, Williams announced that the House would have a new offer on out-of-state students at their next meeting. And that next meeting will take place at 4:30 Wednesday afternoon!

Wednesday; 4:30 PM conference committee meeting

The final conference committee meeting had plenty of memorable moments.

Many folks were wondering what the impact of the new finance plan that Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) had presented to the Republican caucus in the morning would have on proceedings. Everyone knew that Ryckman and some of his allies had been courting members of the House all day looking for support. If strong support for his “Kids First (but not really) Plan” was there, what would happen to this conference committee.

The Senate, as we’ve reported, was sticking to their position in SB 142 – the finance plan recommended by the State Board of Education, supported by the Governor, and approved on a vote of 32 to 8 in the Senate. SB 142 provided $90 million in new school aid in the coming year. The Ryckman plan would have give $9 million to schools and banked $81 million to be used some time in the future.

Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) came to the conference committee meeting and announced she was retracting the last House offer and that, after a 15 minute recess, she would return with what would be the last House offer, including money.

When she came back she made an offer that was the House position on most of the unresolved policy position but they would grant the Senate position on funding if the Senate would agree to repeal the CPI adjustments in the out years. It was clear that the votes in the House were not there for the so-called “Kids First Plan.”

Senators Molly Baumgardner and Jim Denning who- along with Senator Anthony Hensley- led a bipartisan effort to move forward on full constitutional funding for public schools.

The Senate did not yield. After several rounds back and forth, it was clear that the Senate was not going to budge on school finance and on certain pieces of policy. The three members of the Senate team – Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisburg), Jim Denning (R-Overland Park), and Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) – showed a united front and supported each other in the arguments back and forth.

Williams grew angrier with each back and forth eventually accusing Denning and Baumgardner of not being Republican enough for opposing her demand to repeal the CPI and demanding that superintendents sign letters saying they had sufficient resources to help every child meet the Rose standards.

Baumgardner, who maintained a calm, professional demeanor throughout the process, finally let Williams know that she did not appreciate the ad hominem attacks on the Senators and accusations leveled at them. She then urged the House to take a caucus to come up with a final response to the Senate’s positions.

The House members left and after a long break returned to the table. Williams read from a prepared script that called the bill the “Senate/Governor Kelly plan”- perhaps in an effort to humiliate her Republican colleagues- and berated the Senators for working with the Governor and sticking to what she (Williams) deemed to be an irresponsible plan. But with that, she announced the House would take what the Senate offered and run it on the floor. Baumgardner adjourned the meeting.

With a determined, bipartisan approach, the Senate negotiators had managed to get SB 142 accepted as the Gannon finance response and the House backed off nearly all of their policy proposals.

Gone was the limit on bilingual education. The 92% special education reimbursement still stands. Superintendent certification of spending was abandoned along with limits on at-risk funds, an unworkable transportation policy, and much of the most expansive reporting requirements.

The result is a bill that might very well resolve the Gannon lawsuit and put the state back in constitutional compliance on school funding.

You can read the brief explaining the conference committee report by clicking here.

Thursday on the floor…

The House took up the conference committee first and adopted it on a vote of 76 to 47. Click here to see how your Representative voted.

The Senate took it up later that same day and adopted it on a vote of 31 to 8 (vote record here). The bill now goes to the Governor who is expected to sign it into law.

What happens next?

The Attorney General’s office is now tasked with writing a brief for the Supreme Court in defense of the actions taken. That brief is due on April 15 with oral arguments to follow in May.

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SUPPORT SCHOOL FINANCE AGREEMENT!

Apr 4, 2019 by

Email or phone your Representative ASAP!

Last night Senate and House negotiators agreed to a school finance plan. This plan is the recommendation of the State Board of Education, Governor Kelly, and the Senate Select Committee on School Finance.

This plan is almost certain to satisfy the Supreme Court ruling in Gannon.

The House will vote on this plan TODAY!

Call or email your Representative and urge them to VOTE YES ON THE CONFERENCE COMMITTEE REPORT ON SENATE BILL 16!

Representative emails follow this format: firstname.lastname@house.ks.gov

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Conference Committee Continues On School Finance- Until House Member Walks Out.

Apr 2, 2019 by

Rep. Kristey Williams, House K-12 Budget Chair and other conferees.

9:00 AM meeting

Conferees gathered shortly after 9:00 this morning to continue discussion on school finance – or actually on school policy proposals.

The Senators came in with a counter to the last House proposal. The House had offered changes to their policy on the use of some at-risk funds.

  • Those funds could only be spent on at-risk students “ranked in the lower 50th percentile in such student’s class.”
  • Schools would be required to “evaluate outcomes data for such students , including, but not limited to, school attendance, academic progress, graduation rates, pursuit of postsecondary education or other career advancement.”
  • Funds could only be expended on “evidence-based instruction” which would be defined as “an education delivery system based on independent research that consistently produces better student outcomes over a five-year period than would otherwise be achieved by the same at-risk students.”

The Senate counter-offer rejected the bullet listed above, accepted the second, and added language to the third that would required programs to have been peer reviewed.

The Senate also accepted language extending the Dyslexia Task Force.

The Senate has so far rejected the House language ending support for bilingual students after seven years and instead suggested that the issue be revisited after an LPA study that is already scheduled and will file a report in January of 2022. During the discussion, Representative Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) asserted that schools have no incentive to help bilingual students progress and that this limit was needed to incentivize schools to help kids. She also admitted that there was no data to indicate kids were staying in bilingual programs beyond the time needed to master English.

The Senate also suggested that instead of calling for a study of graduation requirements with the goal of getting financial literacy and computer science accepted as math or science credits along with the goal of establishing an IT Commission, that both issues be handed to the Governor’s Education Council as study items.

The House agreed to the language on peer-review of programs and the extension of the dyslexia task force but will take the 50th percentile language under consideration.

As for the graduation requirements and IT Commission, Williams said it was likely the Governor’s Council would not give enough consideration to her issues and she questioned the membership of the Council because it had no legislators on it.

The Conference Committee broke to go on the floor and agreed to meet again at 1:30 this afternoon.

1:30 PM meeting

The committee reconvened at 1:30 and made a little progress when the House accepted the Senate’s offer on the dyslexia task force and peer-review of instructional programs for at-risk students. On the bilingual issue, the House agreed not to change the funding until after the LPA study was released but asked for language requiring the KSDE to collect more data on bilingual students and programs in the meantime.

The House also agreed to drop the IT Commission but to still require KSDE to study graduation requirements, doing so in conjunction/coordination with the Governor’s Education Council. Finally the House dropped some language on reporting local sources of revenue though still reporting funds spent on litigation and the number of virtual students in the district. All accountability reporting to the public would be done via a link to the KSDE website.

They broke and will meet again at 4:30.

4:30 PM meeting

It started with offers and ended with anger and a walk-out.

The Senate came with another offer – one that included an agreement by the LPA to move up the bilingual study, giving them data to make a decision in 2020 instead of 2022. They also accepted the House’s last offer on at-risk expenditures. But they held their position on the other not-yet-agreed to policy pieces in SB 16.

After some back and forth – with Baumgardner educating the conferees on a number of issues. First, Baumgardner noted existing bullying hotline that could be widely promoted instead of creating a new one. Next, she explained why the House proposal on transportation isn’t feasible (Baumgardner had clearly done some detailed research on this one). Finally, she spoke of the reality of bilingual education, specifically why some kids need more time to master English.

After her explanations were complete, the wheels seemed to come off the bus- as it were. Williams became visibly more angry and complained that the KSDE and others were not sharing information with her that should have been brought to her attention during committee hearings.

Williams was clearly planning to end the meeting when Baumgardner announced that the Senate had a funding offer.

The Senate offered Senate Bill 142, the inflation factor proposed by the SBOE and the Governor and passed by the Senate 32 to 8, language on special education funding that would retain 92% as a policy goal of the state, and accepting some accountability suggestions from the House.

Baumgardner and Hensley did an excellent job explaining the importance of the 92% to parents of special needs children and their teachers. “They would feel like an afterthought,” Baumgardner said.

An angry Williams’ clapped back asserting that the state had abandoned the 65% policy goal on “instructional spending” and that others had decided that priorities were “outside of the classroom.” “As for the rest of your offer,” Williams said, “no comment.”

Williams also refused to commit to a meeting tomorrow telling Baumgardner only that if they could meet before 5:00, would they meet. Baumgardner asked her to consider the difficulty for those constituents who listen-in or attend the meetings but Williams would not budge. Instead, she abruptly left the room.

Now, we are all left wondering what happens next.

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