Session ends; Sine Die set for May 29

May 7, 2019 by

Session ends; Sine Die set for May 29

Moderate Republicans abandon efforts on Medicaid/KanCare expansion

KanCare expansion – an effort to provide health care to 150,000 uninsured working Kansans – failed late on May 4 as moderate Republican members of the Kansas House of Representatives abandoned a bipartisan effort to force a vote on the issue in the Senate.

A coalition of Democrats, moderate Republicans, and even some conservative rural Kansas representatives vowed to hold the budget hostage until Senate President Susan Wagle and Majority Leader Jim Denning allowed the full Senate to vote on HB 2066, the bill that would expand KanCare.

While more than 70% of Kansans and majorities in both the House and Senate support expansion, four recalcitrant legislators – Wagle, Denning, House Speaker Ron Ryckman, and House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins – oppose it and have used their power to control what bills will be allowed to be debated to stymie the will of the Legislature and the electorate.

When the House dug in on the issue, voting repeatedly to not adopt the budget but send it back to conference, Wagle, Denning, Ryckman and Hawkins tried to punish them by cutting vital parts of the budget. Their tactic didn’t work. But neither would Wagle nor Denning allow a vote.

Eventually Denning promised that the Senate would take the issue up in January of next year. With this “promise,” moderate House Republicans abandoned the effort and voted to approve the budget leaving only the Democrats along with moderate Republican Diana Dierks and conservative Republicans Jesse Burris, Randy Garber, Michael Houser, and Trevor Jacobs voting NO. Garber and Jacobs represent communities (Horton and Fort Scott respectively) in which hospitals have been forced to close in part due to the state’s failure to expand KanCare.

Sadly, the working poor now have their fate in the hands of a man, Jim Denning, who has suggested to the press that insurance isn’t that helpful (he says his wife almost died and she has insurance) and that the poor can just go to the emergency room if they have a problem. And Denning has used his position as Majority Leader to fight against expansion at every turn. Yet, we are supposed to trust that he will make sure it comes up for a vote in January.

While HB 2066 – the expansion bill – has passed the House and so continues to be “alive” for the 2020 session, we can expect Denning and the other anti-expansion leaders in the Senate to seek the addition of “poison pills” to the bill in their attempt to kill it. And of course the addition of just one amendment to the bill would make it subject to a conference committee which would be made up of four anti-expansion Republicans and two pro-expansion Democrats.

Given Denning’s “promise,” this would be our expectation – that the Senate put HB 2066 on the floor for a vote in January and that the bill will be on the Governor’s desk for her signature by February 1. This is only possible if Denning keeps his word and if moderate Republicans stand up firmly and demand that Wagle, Denning, Ryckman, and Hawkins stop their obstructionism.

Multi-National Corporations are the big winners

Picking winners and losers in the actions of this Legislature is easy.

The working poor lost – they will go at least another year without health care.

Multi-national corporations and the highest earning individuals are the winners. At the end of the session, the House and Senate adopted HB 2033, a somewhat watered down version of the massive corporate tax cut vetoed earlier in the session by Governor Laura Kelly. The bill will cost the state about $245 million over three years.

Some in the Legislature are trying to focus on a provision in the bill dealing with sales tax on groceries. Don’t be fooled – while this bill could reduce the sales tax on food, it is not guaranteed because a reduction in the food sales tax is tied to increases in collections of the compensating use tax. It those collections go up, the food sales tax might come down. If all the assumptions made in crafting the bill turn out to be correct, the food sales tax could drop from 6.5% today to 6.0% in 2021 and then to 5.4% in 2022.

So the bill contains guarantees for multi-national corporations and wishes for the rest of us. But it passed 83 to 41 in the House with one Republican (Pannbacker) voting NO and one Democrat (Pittman) voting YES and 27 to 13 in the Senate with two Republicans (Pilcher-Cook and Skubal) joining all the Democrats in voting NO.

We have yet to see if Governor Kelly vetoes this bill or not.

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House digs in on Medicaid expansion demanding a Senate vote!

May 4, 2019 by

With Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) and Majority Leader Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) steadfastly refusing the allow a vote on KanCare (Medicaid) expansion in the Senate even though it is supported by a majority of Senators, House Democrats and Moderate Republicans have decided to take a stand.

Yesterday they united behind a motion by Don Hineman (R-Dighton) to send the budget back to conference clearly with the intent of holding passage of the budget until the Senate takes a vote on expansion. A coalition of Democrats, moderate Republicans, and some more conservative Republicans from rural areas voted 63 to 61 to send the budget back to conference.

Watching from the gallery one soon saw Wagle and Denning cross the House floor and disappear back into the offices of House leadership. Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) and Majority Leader Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) are also opponents of expansion.

The decision from leadership was then to punish the House by slashing spending in the budget by about $30 million, reducing funding for Regents institutions, a program for improving health care access, a task force charged with helping keep children and families together, and Larned State Hospital. We imagine the idea was to show the members of the House that if they stuck to their position, leadership would force them to accept a worse budget bill.

Well, if that was the idea – that you could scare the House into backing down and accepting the obstructionism of Wagle and Denning – they badly misread the chamber. This time the budget was rejected on a vote of 42 to 81.

The challenge for Wagle, Denning, Ryckman, and Hawkins who are working hard to block majorities in both chambers from passing KanCare expansion is that the Legislature must pass a budget. They cannot adjourn without a budget.

After the second defeat, budget negotiators went back late last night and restored the cuts they had made in the second conference committee report. Now there is a budget that the majority will support if the Senate will agree to vote on KanCare expansion. Both chambers adjourned for the night after 10:00 and will return this morning, the House at 10:00 and the Senate at 11:00.

KanCare expansion will provide health care to as many as 150,000 uninsured Kansans at a cost of about $57 million to the state, much of which is offset by a small premium cost that was added when the bill passed the House. The federal government will pay 90% of the cost of expansion. Since the program was created under the Affordable Care Act, Kansas has turned away over $3 billion in federal money that would have provided health care for the working poor. Thirty-six states, including some solidly Republican states, have already adopted expansion. Polls show over 70% of Kansans support expansion and a majority of Kansas legislators in both chambers support expansion. It is the recalcitrance of Wagle, Denning, Ryckman, and Hawkins that is stopping Kansas from adopting expansion.

Why is expansion important:

  • Economic growth – KanCare expansion will help stimulate the economy and create thousands of jobs. A study by George Washington University found that expanding KanCare would create 3,500–4,000 new jobs in the next five years.
  • It is a Kansas-based solution – Each state that expands its program can tailor it to the state’s particular needs. Among the features Kansas could draw on are requirements that beneficiaries share the costs of premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, incentives for healthy behaviors, and referral to job training for those who might need it.
  • It protects access to care, especially in rural areas – When Mercy Hospital in Independence closed in October 2015, thousands of people lost nearby access to emergency care, surgery, and other health care services; 190 people lost jobs. Effects of the closure are felt throughout the community.
  • It helps 150,000 hardworking Kansans who cannot afford coverage– These are our family members, friends, and fellow Kansans who don’t make enough money to afford quality health insurance but have incomes that are too high to qualify for KanCare. Most are employed and many work multiple jobs to provide for their families. These are Kansans stuck in the coverage gap, with no affordable insurance options.
  • It helps thousands of uninsured military veterans and their families– About 7,400 veterans and their spouses would gain access to quality, affordable health care coverage with KanCare expansion. Veterans often do not have automatic and easy access to health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, despite their service to our country.
  • It controls health insurance costs – Without KanCare expansion, the state’s uninsured will continue to forego necessary health care or seek it in the most expensive place — the emergency room. So long as thousands of working Kansans remain uninsured, the health care they inevitably need but cannot afford ends up raising the costs of health care for others in the state — employers, hospitals, local governments, and privately insured individuals and families.

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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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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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