Debate on several issues continues under the dome tonight.

Mar 20, 2019 by

KEY POINTS:

-House K-12 Budget Committee is continuing to discuss potential school finance solutions, largely ignoring the Governor’s solution while Chairperson pushes HB 2395 (which education community opposes).

-Medicaid expansion reaches the debate phase on the House floor after the rules chair is overturned on a procedural ruling. The debate is expected to continue-possibly into the night.

-House K-12 Budget Committee Chairperson Kristey Williams has told her committee that they will convene a committee meeting tonight upon adjournment of the House.

House K-12 Budget continuing the discuss school finance solution

Yesterday, the House K-12 Budget Committee held a hearing on SB 142, the Senate school finance bill that addresses the Supreme Court ruling in Gannon. This bill matches the solution that was originally in SB 44, Governor Kelly’s school finance bill.

KNEA provided testimony in support of the bill as did KASB, United School Administrators of Kansas, Game On for Kansas Schools, the Kansas PTA, and a number of other organizations and individual school districts. SB 142 is a clean response to the Supreme Court decision and, at this time, the best response that has been put forward. It should be noted that Schools for Fair Funding does not believe this is the full amount needed. KNEA believes it is past time to send a legislative response to the Court and that this bill needs to be passed.

Today’s Committee schedule indicated that the committee would consider the bills that they have heard (HB 2395, the bill carried by House K-12 Budget Committee Chairperson, Kristey Williams and that is widely opposed by the education community, as well as SB 142, the bill the education community supports). But due to other actions today, we are not certain whether action will happen today or not – so read on to see why!

KanCare (Medicaid) Expansion comes to the House floor!

The House was set to debate and vote on a bill today dealing with “advanced practice registered nurses” when Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore (D-Kansas City) moved to amend the bill by gutting it and inserting the contents of a Medicaid expansion bill that had been introduced but ignored by House leadership.

The germaneness of the amendment was challenged and the Rules Chair ruled the amendment as non germane. That ruling was in turn challenged which sets up a vote on “shall the ruling of the rules chair be sustained?” A NO vote means the ruling chair’s ruling is not sustained – it is overturned – and debate on the amendment can go forward. Historically, the rules chair is rarely overturned but in this case he was on a vote of 55 to 62.

Debate went on for some time with most of the time taken up by expansion opponent Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita). Landwehr decried doing this “on the floor” and not property “vetting” the issue. The sad truth, of course, is that, as chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, Landwehr could have held a hearing on the bill at any time and fully vetted it but she chose to block it. Instead she held a “round table discussion” of expansion without ever taking up the actual bill.

Speaking passionately in favor of expansion were Representatives Tom Cox (R-Shawnee) and Jim Kelly (R-Independence). Cox spoke of his own personal health challenges and how important it was to help other people through theirs. He pointed out that he was lucky to have affluent parents who could afford insurance and co-pays while many are not so lucky. Kelly shared his experience “at ground zero” where the hospital closes, doctors leave, and people desperately scramble to find health services. The Independence Hospital was the first to close, followed by Fort Scott, Oswego, and Horton. Thirty more are “on deck to close,” said Kelly. We should also remember the impact those closures have on the people who work in those hospitals as well as the impact on the local economy.

Opponents complained about deficits and the pressure on the budget – a budget they put at risk through votes first for the Brownback tax disaster and now through the passage of more tax cuts for multi-national corporations and wealthy individuals in SB 22. The budget is not a concern when cutting corporate taxes but it is when they have to vote on caring for working Kansans!

In the end, the amendment was adopted on a vote of 69 to 53.

It was then that Majority Leader Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita), an expansion foe, moved to rise and report. This was an unusual motion in that it was done before debate ended and a vote was taken on the bill. Hawkins noted that the intent was to allow folks to craft amendments which could be brought forward in the debate which would continue later.

The House then recessed until 3:45 – meaning a conflict with the scheduled 3:30 meeting of the K-12 Budget Committee. But Representative Williams announced that her committee would meet upon adjournment of the House tonight. And we have no idea when that might be!

Look for a more detailed update on tonight’s proceedings in tomorrow’s edition of Under the Dome.

read more

Big Issues! Tax cuts, KanCare expansion, & School finance

Mar 7, 2019 by

Big Issues! Tax cuts, KanCare expansion, & School finance

It’s big-time under the dome these days (although the light committee schedule would appear to say otherwise).

We’ve spent much time reporting on Senate Bill 22, the budget-busting tax cut bill that passed the Kansas Senate on February 7. As it passed the Senate, the bill would cut taxes by about $190 million putting a budget out of reach that would fund schools, help the foster care system, fix the crisis in Kansas prisons, and restore highway funding. The Senate version would provide about $140 million in tax cuts for multi-national corporations and lets about 9% of Kansas individual taxpayers itemize their state income on taxes even if they can’t on their federal return at a cost of another $50 million.

The Kansas House Tax Committee added a one-cent reduction in the food sales tax, costing the state about $60 million and then inserted a change in the way internet sales taxes are collected and remitted which would increase taxes to the state by about $41 million. So the House version would cost the treasury about $210 million.

After a long debate during which the House rejected all but one amendment to the bill, it was advanced to final action on a vote of 80 to 42. The only amendment that was adopted was one by Rep. Ken Corbet (R-Topeka) defining foods subject to the lower sales tax as those items that can be purchased with food stamps. Amendments by Representatives Jim Ward (D-Wichita) and Tim Hodge (D-Newton) aimed at removing the corporate tax breaks and maintaining those that benefit working Kansans were all rejected on identical party-line votes of 40 to 89.

The bill is now subject to a final action vote which will take place either Friday or Monday.

A “Round-table Discussion” on KanCare expansion

Representative Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita), chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, held a days-long round-table discussion on KanCare expansion this week. KanCare is the Kansas version of Medicaid so this amounts to a discussion on the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Expansion was approved by both the House and Senate in 2016, only to be vetoed by then-Governor Sam Brownback. The House voted to override the Governor’s veto but the override fell short in the Senate.

Medicaid or KanCare expansion is needed for a number of reasons:

  • Our rural hospitals are in financial trouble and expansion would dramatically improve their chances of staying open. Some hospitals have already had to close. The first to shutter was in Independence and just last month, the hospital in Horton indicated that it may be closed. Employees were working without pay. Hospitals in Fort Scott and Oswego have also closed.
  • KanCare expansion will encourage work and job advancement among low-income parents. In Kansas, a parent makes too much to qualify for KanCare if she earns more $7,896 per year for a family of three. If she works a minimum wage job just more than half-time, she would make too much to qualify. If she gets a better job, a raise, or more hours, she would fall into the coverage gap – her income is too high for KanCare and too low to qualify for assistance to purchase private insurance. If Kansas were to expand KanCare, low-income parents could earn more without losing their health coverage.
  • Expansion would provide coverage to between 130,000 and 150,000 working Kansans who cannot afford coverage now.
  • While Kansas would be required to pay a portion of the costs (about $47 million), the bulk of the cost would come from the federal government. In 2020, 90% of the cost would come from the federal government. Kansas has already forfeited more than $3 billion in federal aid from taxes that Kansans are paying!

While both the House and Senate have voted before in favor of expansion and both would likely do so again now, the leadership in both chambers remains opposed and have worked tirelessly to block all efforts to force a vote on expansion. Rep. Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) is now the House Majority Leader and has led the efforts to block expansion. Rep. Landwehr who now holds the chair of the Health and Human Services Committee is also a strong opponent of expansion.

During the first day of the round-table, Republicans Jim Kelly (Independence) and John Eplee (Atchison) spoke in support of expansion and raised their personal experiences – Kelly with the harm to his community caused by the closing of the hospital and Eplee to his experience as a physician with the harm to Kansans who can’t get the care they need.

Read about the first day of the round-table in the Capital-Journal by clicking here.

Find out more about KanCare expansion at the website of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas by clicking here. KNEA is a member of the Alliance.

School finance moving

We reported that the first school finance bill – SB 142 – moved out of committee on Wednesday and will go to the full Senate for debate probably next week. This bill contains only the proposed inflation fix to school finance required by the Gannon decision.

It is important to understand that not everyone agrees that this bill will be approved by the Court. There are two interpretations of what the Court was requiring. This bill puts in one inflation increase and then maintains that through the following years. Schools for Fair Funding (SFFF) believes the Court wants to see an inflation increase each year along with the spending increases passed last year. KNEA’s interpretation has been the same as that of SFFF.

We would anticipate at this time that what is likely to pass is this bill along with SB 147 which is the rest of the education budget. When combined, these bills are the same as SB 44, the Governor’s school finance bill introduced at the start of the session.

We are expecting a Senate floor debate on SB 142 next week.

read more

Session adjourned, but what have we truly accomplished?

Apr 7, 2017 by

The Legislature has adjourned the regular session and your representatives are headed for home. The House, which was last to adjourn, was out by 11:54 am. Legislators will be home the rest of April and return to Topeka for the veto session – more commonly these days called the wrap-up session.


The biggest issues of the 2017 session remain unresolved.

  • They did pass a budget but it does not balance.
  • They failed to pass tax reform that will fund our vital state services going forward.
  • They have not yet passed a new school finance formula although it is assembled and awaits a vote in committee in May to send it to the floor for consideration.
  • They failed to expand Medicaid, denying 150,000 Kansans access to health care.

Their accomplishments? They successfully defended the National Rifle Association by ensuring that come July 1, 2017, Kansas community colleges, tech colleges, and universities will be wide open for firearms. Anyone can carry a firearm on any post-secondary campus at any time unless the campus can provide metal detectors and security staff at entrances. It didn’t matter that parent organizations, student organizations, faculty and college administration – even General Richard B. Myers, the retired military hero and current president of Kansas State University – wanted the law changed to allow campuses to control weapons. It only mattered that the NRA wants our campuses to be open to all guns all the time.  

The last attempt to address the guns on campus issue happened on Tuesday, April 4, when Rep. Jim Ward (R-Wichita) made a motion to bring a related gun bill to the floor for debate. Ward’s motion failed when it only got 44 votes. All 40 Democrats voted to bring the issue to the floor for debate; they were joined by only four Republicans – Rep. Shelee Brim (R-Shawnee), Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park), Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway), and Rep. Tom Sloan (R-Lawrence).

They also successfully declared pornography to be a public health issue in Kansas and prohibited Kansas from doing business with any company that is boycotting Israel.

Brownback State of the State

So, despite the reality in Kansas today – a reality in which Gov. Brownback remains the most unpopular governor in the United States with overwhelming public opposition to the tax disaster he forced upon Kansas in 2012 – the legislature has been unable to muster enough votes to override his vetoes of reasonable tax reform and the expansion of Medicaid, leaving Brownback to believe his ideology and policies are invincible. He will continue to cling to his failed policies as long as the legislature remains unwilling to stand up for their constituents.

The attitude of the obstructionists in the legislature can best be seen in the comments and votes of Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita). After voting to sustain the Governor’s veto of Medicaid expansion, she told the press that the state just did not have the money to do this. Yet earlier in the session, Landwehr voted NO on HB 2178, the first comprehensive tax reform bill that would have reversed much of the Brownback disaster. And she then voted NO on the motion to override his veto of that bill. The argument that the state does not have the money would sound more honest if she had actually joined with those who were trying to solve the money problem.

While HB 2178 would have been a great step in the right direction, with the subsequent Supreme Court ruling in the Gannon school finance case, we know now that it would not have gone far enough. Since then, the legislature has done nothing serious to return to common sense tax policy. They have sent out bills to raise cigarette and liquor taxes, they have thought about motor fuels tax increases, and yesterday after the Governor expressed support for a “flat tax” bill, the Senate defeated that bill on a vote of 3-37. KNEA opposes the flat tax bill because it radically raised taxes on low and middle-income Kansans while essentially protecting the wealthiest. The flat tax bill would have been a massive tax increase on lower income individuals and a minor tax increase on the wealthiest.

There is a way out of this disaster but it takes some courage. Some legislators are now floating the idea of repealing the 2012 tax cuts and going back to the income tax as it was before Brownback conned the legislature into passing his disastrous experiment. These legislators would end the glide path to zero, and put 330,000 businesses back on the tax rolls while reinstating their business loss deduction. They would reinstate the third tax bracket on higher income individuals while providing middle-class relief by reinstating deductions for child and dependent care, medical expenses, and home mortgage interest.

A proposal of this sort would raise enough revenue to bring our state back from the abyss and allow the legislature to stop robbing the highway fund, to respond appropriately to the Gannon decision, and even expand Medicaid.

We are well past the time for gimmicks and protecting a failed Governor. When the legislature returns on May 1 their first order of business needs to be reversing the failed tax policies of 2012 and 2013. And they need to find the resolve to stand up to the bully on the second floor in order to save this great state.

Your legislators will be back home from now until May 1. It is critical that they hear from their constituents; from Kansans who want good roads, excellent schools, and support for those facing difficult challenges. Tell your legislators that you’ve had enough of the Brownback experiment. It is a failed experiment and it is time to reverse it.

read more

Ed Budget Committee Cancelled; Medicaid Override Fails

Apr 3, 2017 by

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee meeting for today was cancelled and we are not quite certain about why. We had expected the committee to meet – on Friday night Chairman Campbell had said they would likely meet to finish the transportation weighting and consider a few additional amendments. Frankly, we thought they might finish up today and send the bill out.

But the meeting was cancelled early today amid rumors of a desire to have the new legislative counsel on hand before voting the bill out (reports are that the legislature may hire former Senator Jeff King as their adviser on school finance). Another rumor is that a cost run came in unusually high and needed to be further reviewed. It’s also possible that leadership may not be fully supportive the measure being crafted in the committee.

But whatever the reason, the committee will not meet today. We will watch for an announcement about tomorrow.


House Fails to Override Brownback’s Medicaid Veto

On a vote of 81 – 44, the House failed to pass a motion to override the Governor’s veto of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. It takes an 84 vote majority to override.

This action means that there are now and will be into the foreseeable future, 150,000 low-incomed working Kansans who have no real access to health insurance. These are people whose income is too high for ACA credits but too low to pay for private insurance.

The 44 who voted NO on the override are Republican Representatives Arnberger, Aurand, Awerkamp, Barker, Blex, Carpenter, Claeys, Corbet, Davis, DeGraaf, Delperdang, Dove, Ellis, Esau, Finch, Francis, Garber, Hawkins, Highland, Hoffman, House, Huebert, Humphries, Jacob, Jones, Lakin, Landwehr, Mason, Osterman, Powell, Rafie, Rahjes, Resman, Ryckman, Schwab, Seiwert, Eric Smith, Tarwater, Thimesch, Vickrey, Weber, Whitmer, and Williams.

All 40 Democrats and 41 other Republicans voted to override.

read more

Medicaid Battle Not Over, K-12 Budget Working Late

Mar 30, 2017 by

VETO OVER-RIDE TABLED IN THE HOUSE

Today Governor Brownback ignored the majority of those in the legislature who were elected to represent the good citizens of Kansas and instead made good on a promise to veto medicaid expansion.  Many advocacy groups have urged Kansans to pressure legislators to vote to override the Governor’s veto.  Governor Brownback’s continued insistence to place partisan ideology ahead of what’s best for the neediest citizens of our state is certainly disappointing.  Kansas Action for Children President and CEO, Annie McKay offered a strong rebuke of the Governor’s veto while calling him to account for backtracking on his own words:

“In 2014, Governor Brownback gladly signed legislation relinquishing authority for expanding KanCare over to the Kansas Legislature. He refused to take any further action on the issue because he said it was the legislature’s responsibility. A bipartisan majority of both legislative chambers have now endorsed the expansion of KanCare. It is deeply disappointing to see Governor Brownback obstruct the will of the people on such an important issue for the second time this session.

Kancare expansion – much like comprehensive tax reform – is widely supported across this state. It will improve the health and well-being of thousands of Kansas children and families and will strengthen our economy as a whole. We encourage lawmakers to stand strong for their communities and give thousands of our citizens the health care they deserve by voting to override the Brownback veto of House Bill 2044.”

After contentious debate in the Kansas House of Representatives, a motion to over-ride the Governor’s veto has been tabled to give citizens an opportunity to weigh in on the issue.  We strongly encourage you to take this opportunity to contact your representatives in both the House and Senate and urge them to vote to OVER-RIDE the Governor’s veto on medicaid expansion.  You can find your representatives and contact them by CLICKING HERE.


K-12 Budget Working Late

Rep. Brenda Landwehr

After Chairman Campbell’s promise to work today until a new school finance formula has been created, the K-12 Budget Committee has been doing just that.  At this hour, there has been much debate around a slew of amendments.  Notably, Rep. Brenda Landwehr suggested in a stern tone that the Supreme Court of Kansas hasn’t suggested that more money is needed to solve adequacy.  Instead, she suggested that a more efficient distribution of funding was in order and would satisfy the court order.  Landwehr went on to state that Catholic schools do better than public schools with less money spent and that “how you teach and approach students is more important than money.”  Few would argue that teaching and learning successes come from dedicated professional educators and engaged students, but as the Supreme Court has noted time and again, the state (most recently with Brownback’s CLASS Act) has not been supporting public education equitably or adequately.

Among the important amendments already adopted are:

  • Replacing the three local tax levies with the prior formula’s LOB formula,
  • Full funding of all-day Kindergarten beginning next year,
  • Additional funding for preschool at-risk,
  • Re-establishing the career and tech ed weighting,
  • Removing the 5 year limit on bilingual funding, and
  • Returning to the prior formula on high density at-risk.

As we write this, amendments are still being offered and the debate continues.  We expect this committee to be working late into the night.  We will post a full report in tomorrow’s edition of Under the Dome.

read more