Schools, Medicaid, and Grinding Toward the End

Mar 27, 2017 by

School Finance Hearing Finishes; No Work Yet

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee met today and concluded three days of hearings on HB 2410, the Chairman’s bill on school finance. We have been there all three days and don’t believe we heard any proponents for the bill with the exception of a virtual school organization that rose to express support for only that portion of the bill and had no position on anything else.

Based on Chairman Larry Campbell’s (R-Olathe) previous comments, we had assumed that the committee might begin working the bill after the hearing ended but instead Campbell adjourned the committee after announcing that tomorrow’s meeting would be “on the call of the chair.” So tomorrow we will be waiting for an announcement from the floor of the House as to whether or not the committee will meet.


KanCare and Medicaid Expansion

Rep. Cindy Holscher (D-Overland Park) offered an amendment to HB 2047 to add an independent ombudsman for KanCare. Currently, if denied services, one can appeal only to the very board that denied the service. This was one of the issues raised in the highly critical federal review of KanCare that found serious problems with the Kansas system. The amendment failed 49-73. In other words, the Kansas House voted once again to deny a due process appeal, this time by persons with serious medical issues being denied services by the Colyer/Brownback health care system.

Also this afternoon, Medicaid expansion is being debated on the Senate floor. It has already passed the House with 81 votes and chances are good that it will pass the Senate after what is expected to be a lengthy debate. One of arguments most used by the opponents of expansion – the move by congressional Republicans and Donald Trump to repeal the Affordable Care Act – has been neutered by the failure of “Trumpcare” in Congress last week and the statement by House Speaker Paul Ryan that “Obamacare is the law of the land for the foreseeable future.”

UPDATE: Medicaid expansion passes the Senate 25-13 but still two votes shy of a veto-proof margin.  Here’s how your Senator voted courtesy of Topeka Capital-Journal Reporter, Celia Llopis-Jepsen (interactive map):  CLICK HERE

 


Mostly Floor Action This Week; Conference Committees Next Week

This week has very few committee meetings scheduled. Instead, both chambers will convene earlier in the day to debate bills that have come out of committee with the intention of finishing such work by Thursday, Friday at the latest. This will reserve next week for conference committees to work out the differences between House and Senate versions of the same bill and then adopting or rejecting those conference committee reports.

The last day for the regular session is April 7. Legislators will then go home for three weeks, reconvening for the veto session on May 1.

 

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New Finance Bill? Not Yet.

Mar 20, 2017 by

No New School Finance Bill Today

We suppose the “Chairman’s Bill” on school finance, which we expected to be unveiled in committee today is not yet ready. Today’s meeting of the K-12 Education Budget Committee was canceled.

There are meetings scheduled for Tuesday through Friday, so hopefully, we’ll get our first look tomorrow.


Senate Committee Hears Proponents of Medicaid Expansion

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee today held the first part of a two-part hearing on HB 2044, the bill expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Earlier this session, Medicaid expansion was blocked by the House Committee chairman but Rep. Susan Concannon (R-Beloit) brought an amendment on the House floor that put it in another related bill. Concannon’s amendment was adopted on a voice vote and the amended bill was passed with a strong majority (81-44).

Opponents of expansion will have their day before the Senate committee tomorrow.

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Half Time at the Kansas Legislature

Feb 23, 2017 by

What happens to all those Bills?

The Kansas Legislature wrapped up its first half today and won’t resume their work until Monday, March 6.

Under the rules, any bill that has not passed its chamber of origin is now dead and cannot be considered as a stand-alone bill again this year. The exception to this is any bill that was introduced in a time-line exempt committee The House and Senate Federal and State Affairs, Senate Ways and Means, Senate Assessment and Taxation, House committees on Calendar and Printing, Appropriations, Taxation are all exempt committees. An exempt bill is defined as “those sponsored by, referred to or acted upon by an exempt committee.”

When a bill from a non-exempt committee is referred to an exempt committee, it is then a time-line exempt bill. While the K-12 Education Budget Committee is not an exempt committee, the four school finance bills were referred to exempt Appropriations Committee. This is referred to as “blessing” the bill.

We will be reviewing all bills of interest to see which are still viable.

Of course, no idea is ever dead and bills that are not in exempt committees or blessed can certainly re-emerge as amendments to other bills.


Issues this Week Demonstrate a Strong Coalition of Democrats and Moderate Republicans Willing to Stand up for Good Policy

For all the social media rants about whether Moderate Republicans will put Kansas ahead of party or whether Democrats will cooperate with Moderates to advance good policy; what has been clearly demonstrated this week is that both Moderates and Democrats are honoring their commitments to work with each other to advance policies beneficial to Kansas.

The best examples of this were the votes on the tax bill (HB 2178), the motion to override the veto of the tax bill, and the successful effort to pass Medicaid expansion.

HB 2178 passed the House on a vote of 76 – 48 and Senate on a vote of 22 – 18. The override vote passed the House 85 – 40. While the override failed in the Senate, Moderates and Democrats delivered 24 votes in favor of the override to 16 opposed.

The Medicaid expansion effort in the House found similar margins passing with 81 votes. And more importantly, five amendments offered by Conservative Republicans as poison pills went down to defeat; one by 68 votes, three by 74 votes, and the fifth by 72 votes. These were what we might call “postcard votes” – those expected to lose but likely to end up on campaign postcards later.

These votes demonstrate, beyond a shadow of doubt, that Democrats and Moderate Republicans are working from a position of mutual respect and remarkable cooperation. They are united in their determination to put Kansas back on a path to stability and prosperity.

We applaud them!


Why Not Visit Them When They Are Back Home?

With the legislature on the turnaround break until March 6, they will undoubtedly be attending forums and town hall meetings. We urge all who are interested in the actions of this legislature to take the time to attend an event and use the time to thank those who stood up for Kansas and take to task those who have maintained their allegiance to Governor Brownback’s failed policies.

 

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A Day for Obstructionism

Feb 20, 2017 by

Aurand Stops Due Process Bill. Again.

House Ed Committee Chairman, Clay Aurand

We came into the office today ready for the 3:30 pm meeting of the House Education Committee when Chairman Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) had scheduled time for working on bills. We were anxious to see if supporters of Kansas public school teachers on the committee would finally get to vote on HB 2179, the bill restoring due process protections for teachers in Kansas.

Up to this point Chairman Aurand has used every trick at his disposal (or so we thought) to bottle the bill up in his effort to kill it and yet not me counted for voting against it. But it wasn’t long before we realized that Aurand had one more trick – in announcements at the end of this morning’s full House session, he simply announced that the committee meeting for today was canceled. He was determined that the bill would never come to a vote. Today was the last day for committee meetings and any bill not passed by Thursday of this week is dead for the session.

Aurand is trying to convince folks that he’s a good guy just hoping that KNEA and KASB can come to some sort of “compromise” on due process.  But it isn’t lost on anyone that Representative Aurand is a sitting school board member in a district without due process rights. Aurand has declared before his committee that it was never his intent to work this bill, regardless of the committee’s will to do so.  KNEA and KASB can come to compromise on some issues in the due process statute. We can find compromises that speed up the process and reduce costs, for example. But we remain and will continue to remain in opposition over the issue of whether or not a due process hearing decision is binding on the school board.

From its beginnings in the 1950’s until 1991, due process hearings ended in a decision that was advisory to the board. School boards back then did not accept any advisory opinion that went against the district and supported the teacher. That’s why in 1991, the legislature voted to change the system to a binding decision. After all, what’s the purpose of the hearing if the board can unilaterally ignore the ruling? That’s NOT due process.

Aurand’s insistence that we “compromise” on this is actually an insistence that we simply give up and agree that boards of education are infallible.

Aurand’s actions are reminiscent of the actions taken by former speaker Ray Merrick and his anti-teacher allies who crammed the repeal of due process into a must-pass finance bill at 4:00 in the morning without any opportunity for public discussion or debate. Like Aurand, who knows his committee supports the bill, Merrick knew he did not have enough anti-teacher votes to pass the repeal unless it was attached to something critical. Merrick found a way around the will of the legislature. Aurand is doing the same using his power as a committee chairman without regard to the will of the majority on his own committee.


Barker and Hawkins Stop Medicaid Expansion

Today was also the day on which we expected the Medicaid expansion bill, HB 2064, to be passed out of committee.

Yet once again, the committee chair used his power to get the committee to essentially kill the bill.

In this case, Rep. John Barker (R-Abilene) argued that Medicaid expansion would be too expensive and should wait until the Supreme Court weighed in on the Gannon school finance lawsuit. If the Court called for $500 million more for schools, then there would be no money for Medicaid expansion. Brownback has asserted that expansion would cost the state about $100 million over two years. Of course, it would also bring hundreds of millions of dollars into Kansas.

Barker made a motion to table the bill until April. It had a vote of 8 to 8 which normally kills a motion unless the Chair of the Committee chooses to break the tie. In this case, Committee Chairman Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita), an opponent of expansion, voted for the motion.

What this means is that the committee can’t reconsider the bill until April but, since Thursday is the last day for bills to come out of the chamber or origin, the motion actually has the effect of killing the bill for this session.

Looks like this might be the hallmark of the 2017 legislative session. A new legislature, a majority of whom support Medicaid expansion and public school teachers and campaigned on changing the dialogue in Topeka are being denied the chance to vote on core issues because of the leaders who were installed as committee chairs.

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