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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Bullying and Budgeting

Feb 20, 2019 by

A solid week of bullying bills!

This is turning out to be the week of the bully under the dome. It started with a Valentine’s Day hearing on HB 2150, a bill that allowed any child who reported bullying – just reported it; it didn’t have to happen to him/her and it didn’t actually have to happen at all – to be offered a voucher to attend a private school where, we guess, bullying must not happen.

Okay, it wasn’t a bill to address bullying, it was a bill to create vouchers. Now this week, we have hearings on two more bullying bills.

One, HB 2257, was drafted by Equality Kansas, an advocacy organization for LGBTQ Kansans. Equality Kansas took the time to confer on their draft with education organizations including KNEA and was receptive to suggestions resulting in a bill that is generally considered the best one out there at this time.

The second bill is HB 2330. This bill was based on the infamous Walt Chappell drafted bill that was so much overkill that even advocates for stronger bullying laws opposed it. The bill was given to freshman Representative Mark Samsel (R-Wellsville) who worked to purge it of some of the more onerous provisions. Samsel has also reached out to KNEA, KASB, and USA for input in the hope of creating something that everyone can agree to – perhaps a melding of HB 2257 and HB 2330. Complicating the problem is that the bills are having hearings in two different committees!

Bullying legislation is a perennial issue in the statehouse with education organizations looking for local control on the issue and other organizations seeking statutes with “more teeth.”

KNEA opposed HB 2150 for what it is – a voucher bill. We are appearing neutral on the other two and encouraging legislators to deal with this issue as they did with the other perennial issue, dyslexia. Last year, with the leadership of Rep. Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka), a controversial dyslexia bill was transformed into the establishment of a task force made up of teachers, administrators, State Board members, parents, legislators, and advocacy organizations.

The Dyslexia Task Force met over the summer and fall and managed to collaboratively develop a set of recommendations – unanimously adopted by the members of the task force – that will hopefully satisfy all of the interested parties. We believe the same process should be used to come up with a solution to bullying that helps schools, protects students, and deals with the underlying issues.

HB 2257 had a hearing today; HB 2330 will get a hearing tomorrow. And that voucher bill, HB 2150? It is scheduled for a vote in committee tomorrow.

Money mess

Since budgeting, spending, and taxes are all intertwined, we thought it best to let you know where things are as of today.

The mostly corporate tax giveaway, SB 22, has passed the Senate with 26 votes and is getting a hearing in the House Tax Committee today and tomorrow. It reduces revenue by nearly $190 million.

Both the Senate and House Tax Committees are hearing bills this week to lower the food sales tax rate. Lowering the rate by one cent, from 6.5% to 5.5% would cost the state about $60 million.

The Senate has also passed SB 9 which would require the state to immediately pay back $115 million in funds delayed to KPERS. This bill has had a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee and was voted out of committee favorably. It awaits action in the full House probably this week. It represents a reduction of $115 million from the treasury which would make the budget harder to balance.

Governor Kelly had recommended the re-amortization of KPERS in order to lower the immediate costs and help balance the budget. Her re-amortization bill was soundly defeated on the House floor.

So lots of things are happening that will make it more difficult to balance the budget and meet the priorities for Kansas that Governor Kelly highlighted in her state of the state address – funding schools, repairing the foster care system, hiring correctional officers to end the crisis in Kansas prisons, and expand Medicaid to provide health insurance to 150,000 uninsured working Kansans.

We are approaching the half-way point of the session. There is much still to be done!

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A Waiting Game and a Budget

Jun 8, 2017 by

With the passage of a school finance plan and, thanks to a veto override, a tax plan, the legislature has one more major piece of business between them adjournment – the final budget bill.

As we write today, the House is debating their budget bill and the Senate is on a recess, ready to come back to vote, at least, on a conference committee report.

Once both chambers pass a budget, they will need to work out the differences in a conference committee. We anticipate that both budgets will be done today, leaving tomorrow for the adoption of a conference committee report. It is possible to wrap up the session tomorrow but not certain.

But we are also waiting to hear if Governor Brownback signs or vetoes the school finance bill. It was announced that he signed a bill simplifying the rules about working after retirement in KPERS positions but no word yet on SB 19, school finance.

In the meantime, we would suggest you follow twitter. Best sources are, of course our own Mark Desetti (@desettiks), the statehouse reporters (@kprkoranda, @Celia_LJ, @jonshorman, @LJWpqhancock), and one of the best sources of action unfolding in the House is Rep. Stephanie Clayton (@SSCJoCoKs).

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Logic, Budgets, and Taxes

May 3, 2017 by

We have a belief in the logical order of decision making. That is, since the state is out of money and can’t fund its current budget, there will need to be a revenue/tax bill passed that allows state services to continue. We also know that the legislature must meet the Supreme Court ruling in Gannon. So our logic is to approach this in a specific order. First, pass the new school finance formula that determines how much money is needed for K-12 education. Second, pass a state budget that spells out funding for all state agencies/services. Finally, pass a comprehensive tax plan that allows the budget to be funded.

Putting the tax bill first constrains actions on the budget and school finance.

But logic does not always apply under the dome.

Right now both chambers are arguing about tax policy while the school finance formula and budget are stalled.

Many legislators are fighting for the application of a logical order. They want to make only one more vote on taxes and they want that vote to both fill the state’s budget hole and fund our schools.

Yesterday a planned tax vote in the Senate was pulled and today the same thing happened in the House. That’s not bad news. It is a result of legislators making the case for logic and denying votes for a bill that does not solve the two problems they face.

What it is important to remember now is that we are only three days into this veto session and the legislature has 24 days available and budgeted. There is no reason to panic and ignore rational decision making. And while we all want this done, it is more important that it be done right.

K-12 Budget Committee Considers Taxes in School Finance Bill

Within this ongoing debate about how much in taxes and what to pay for, the House K-12 Budget Committee met today to talk about the possibility of putting dedicated tax increases in the school finance formula bill to pay education increases.

The first part of the discussion was simply whether or not that was constitutional under the “two-subject” rule. Since the bill already contains at least one tax provision – renewal of the statewide 20 mill property tax levy – it would appear to be legal, provided that the proposals in the bill specifically reference paying for provisions in the bill.

After some discussion including asking questions of House Tax Committee Chairman Steven Johnson (R-Assaria), there did not appear to be consensus on whether or not this was a good idea. One problem brought up by several legislators is that even if this legislature put the taxes in the bill and targeted them to education, future legislatures would be free to sweep those revenues for other purposes.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow to hear from Jeff King, the attorney hired by the legislature to advise the Committee on the likelihood that this bill would be found to be constitutional.

Tax Agreements Scheduled for Votes; Votes Cancelled

Things indeed seem messy in the quest to find a tax bill that will fill the holes, fund our schools, and get enough votes to override an expected veto by the Governor (84 in the House; 27 in the Senate).

The first tax bill this session (HB 2178) easily passed both chambers before being vetoed by Governor Brownback who insists that his failed tax experiment is working. The House secured 85 votes for an override but the Senate failed to get to 27.

It was said that the Senate would be voting yesterday on a new tax bill but the bill in question would not have raised enough money to fix the problems facing the state right now let alone fund a new school finance bill. Leadership did not bring the bill forward for a vote.

Instead, the tax conference committee met again to hammer out another bill, this time putting it in a Senate bill so that the House would vote first. That vote was expected after lunch today but again, the vote was delayed. As we write this update, we are waiting for the House to reconvene. Rumors under the dome are that the bill is still short of what is necessary for funding and so is also still short of the needed votes. If this is true, it is very likely that there will be no vote today.

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