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Week 10 Newsletter

The Capital was buzzing with activity this week as we wrap up our committee work and send the bills being worked to the House floor. The big topic this week was the vote taken on Medicaid Expansion. Seeing as how this affects so many citizens of Kansas, I want to provide a bit more insight into how this came about and what I believe it means for Kansas.

Medicaid Expansion has been a topic of conversation in Kansas since the Affordable Care Act was passed by the US Government under the direction of then President Barack Obama. It became available to states in 2014 if their Legislature voted to adopt the expansion language and requirements. It is called “Expansion” because Medicaid was originally designed to cover the elderly, children, expectant mothers and the disabled. The system in Kansas currently does this without expansion. If passed into law, expansion would allow approximately 150,000 working age men and women into the states medicaid system. The federal government currently pays 90% of the cost of expansion and the state is responsible for the remainder.

There are various reasons why people believe expansion is a good idea for Kansas. It would provide health to those considered “working poor” or those not working that fall within certain poverty guidelines. It will provide additional revenue to hospitals that currently provide emergency services for some of those who cannot pay. Economic benefit is listed as another reason to support it as it will draw down federal funds and return them back to Kansas.

Opponents argue the state cannot afford it. It is estimated to cost the state between $50 to $150 Million. We won’t know how much until it is spent. Every state that has expanded has underestimated the cost of expanding Medicaid. There are arguments that people will refuse to work to receive free health benefits. Some believe citizens will leave their current policies to get on the taxpayer funded system. Many fear a significant tax increase to pay for it.

Regardless of where you stand, its very important to understand how this bill made it to the House floor and was voted on. Normally, when a bill is introduced, it is assigned to a committee who has hearings and allows testimony for and against it. The bill is fully vetted, amendments are proposed, and ultimately, a vote is taken by the committee to decide whether it should go to the House floor. The Chair of Health and Human Services committee was finishing up 3 days of discussion on this bill when everyone got a surprise.

On Wednesday, the House was set to debate three bills. One of those bills, HB 2066, was a bill that had been worked on for many years to give Advanced Practicing Registered Nurses full practice authority under the direction of the Kansas Board of Nursing. Everyone was fully prepared to vote on this on this bill after hearing any arguments for and against it. The very first person to speak on this bill was a Representative who offered an amendment. Her amendment would “Gut (completely remove)” the contents of the bill and insert the contents of the Medicaid Expansion bill previously mentioned.

One of the requirements of an amendment is that it has to be Germane (pertinent and related to the topic) of the current bill. There is a rules committee and chairman that decides whether a topic is germane to the overall bill by following a predetermined set of rules that the House of Representatives previously approved. After much discussion by the committee, the amendment was ruled Not germane, so it should have been not allowed as it didn’t pertain to the current bill being debated. For the first time in history that anyone can remember, the Rules Committee decision was appealed and overruled. Thus with a majority vote, the amendment was allowed to be introduced. This set a very scary precedence for future legislatures. This basically indicated that a the Rules committee can be invalidated by a majority making germaneness not important.

This decision basically allowed what is termed as a “Gut & Go” bill to be debated and ultimately passed by the House. This procedure allows an entire bill to possibly become law without being fully vetted. Democrats and Republicans alike have previously railed against its use. In this case, it suited a specific agenda so the “dislike” was set aside.

So in all of this where do I stand? Well, I am certainly no fan of amendments or Gut & Go procedures. More than that, I am concerned about the cost and those folks that have still haven’t received services and have been waiting upwards of 8 years. Here is my official explanation of vote that is part of the House record:
Mr. Speaker. I vote NO on HB 2066. We have upwards of 4000 Disabled Kansans who have waited upwards of 8 years for services. We have a state of emergency in our prisons. We have lost kids in our foster care system. We are in the midst of a Mental Health Crisis! We have an underfunded KPERS system. We have an underfunded Judiciary. We have roads and bridges that needs fixed. We have an unresolved school funding lawsuit. Ladies and gentlemen, I firmly believe this will result in a tax increase within the next 2 years. We have so many needs that I simply cannot be ok creating a new class individuals dependent on a taxpayer funded health care system.

This bill is now in the hands of the Senate. It will be up to them to decide whether to have debates and ultimately vote on the bill. If they do, the Governor has already indicated her intent to sign it.

Please let me know if you have any concerns or topics of interest. I would be happy to visit with you. It is truly an honor to be your Representative and I am humbled by your prayers and support.

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Committee to Elect Stephen Owens,
Gloria Arrellano, Treasurer
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