The Senate Health Committee took up SB 252, the bipartisan compromise on Medicaid expansion crafted by Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) and Governor Laura Kelly in advance of the 2020 legislative session. During the announcement of the compromise, there was plenty of excitement that, finally, 130,000 low-income Kansans would gain access to healthcare and not have to choose between feeding their family or paying the rent and getting a medical condition treated.

Alas, it appears we were all overly optimistic that bipartisanship, cooperation, and concern for others could ever overcome hyper-partisan, conservative ideology.

Conservatives on the committee added a work requirement amendment despite the fact that a federal court just struck down a work requirement in Arkansas.

Other amendments conservative committee members offered would do the following:

  • Allow providers to opt-out of medical services they object to on religious grounds including contraceptive services;
  • hold Medicaid expansion from going into effect until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the individual coverage mandate in the Affordable Care Act; and
  • hold Medicaid expansion until Kansas voters adopt a constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to control or ban abortion.

Senator Anthony Hensley offered a motion to vote the bill out of committee without recommendation but that was defeated. A subsequent motion by Hensley to vote it out favorably for passage also failed.

Hensley noted the hypocrisy and politicking in the actions of the conservatives saying they were first to highlight their social agenda through their amendments but then refused to support moving the bill out of committee so the full Senate could vote on that agenda.

Medicaid expansion is tied up in the debate over whether a proposed constitutional amendment should be voted out of the legislature and sent to the voters. The amendment is the result of a Kansas Supreme Court decision that essentially says Kansans have the right to control their own bodies.

Anti-abortion advocates with Kansans for Life and the Kansas Catholic Conference proposed the constitutional amendment and have promoted it under the tag, “Let Kansans Vote.” But the amendment calls for that vote to take place in the August primary election which has a notoriously low voter turnout. While the amendment passed in the Senate, it came up four votes short in the House with some of those lawmakers voting “no,” saying their vote might be different had it been placed on the November ballot when more Kansans vote.

In August, there are often Republican primaries between conservatives and moderates and there are rarely Democratic primaries. Kansas Democrats often don’t vote in primaries and, since the primaries are closed, unaffiliated (independent) voters don’t turn out in August. Kansans for Life and the Catholic Conference are confident the amendment would pass in August but less certain about the outcome in November. Their legislative allies, like Senate President Susan Wagle, have steadfastly refused to change the amendment vote to November. In addition, Wagle has vowed to stop any vote on Medicaid until the constitutional amendment passes the House.

In the meantime, there are low-income children in our schools whose parents have no healthcare. If those parents need medical care, they must choose between that care and feeding their children or paying the rent. These families are one medical crisis away from homelessness.

Bullying Bill, SB 410, Tabled in Committee

The bullying bill was taken up the Senate Education Committee but after much discussion and some amending, the bill was ultimately tabled.

The proposed legislation, which came from Equality Kansas, was supported by KNEA. We also asked in our testimony that the requirement for bullying policies and data reporting should be expanded to include accredited private schools or, at the very least, include private schools receiving students under the tax credit scholarship (voucher) program.

A motion by Senator Dinah Sykes (D-Lenexa) that added the requirements to private schools taking scholarship/voucher students was adopted on a voice vote.

After much discussion about what constitutes bullying, whether or not there is an understood definition of bullying, and the reporting of assaults, Senator Larry Alley (R-Winfield) moved to table the bill. That motion passed.