People, policy & politics What will the 2020 Kansas legislative session mean for you?
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Politics may be near tipping point on Medicaid expansion
Olathe resident Carolyn Thomas spoke during a Medicaid expansion meeting in Johnson County about challenges faced by working Kansans without health insurance before meeting Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers, who is part of a campaign to pass a bill in 2020 adding as many as 150,000 adults and children to the stateâ€™s Medicaid program under provisions of the Affordable Care Act. [TIM CARPENTER/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
By Tim Carpenter The Topeka Capital-Journal
OLATHE â€” Carolyn Thomas chose not to seek emergency care for a serious hip injury to avoid the burden of a staggering medical bill. Her inability to walk eventually cost her a job with access to health insurance benefits, dropping the caregiver of her deceased son's four children into a precarious fight for survival. She eventually qualified for disability benefits under KanCare, the state's Medicaid program. "I'm grateful to God that I did not lose my home," Thomas said. "It was a
very harsh struggle." Thomas said there was reason to be optimistic the 2020 Legislature and Gov. Laura Kelly would follow collaborative impulses to pass a bipartisan bill expanding Medicaid eligibility for 130,000 to 150,000 low-income Kansas adults and children who don't financially qualify for Medicaid or cannot afford private health insurance. State lawmakers have an opportunity to consider in January at least three options for deepening access to Medicaid, with the objective to become the 37th state to make use of Affordable Care Act provisions available since 2014. "There are so many out here like me
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, developed a Medicaid expansion bill with provisions appealing to Republican and Democratic legislators. His plan is set to be debated by the 2020 Legislature but has been criticized as complex, lacking certain accountability rules and likely to delay implementation until 2022. [TIM CARPENTER/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
that wish they had it and fall through the cracks," said Thomas, a student at Johnson County Community College. Medicaid expansion became a political football as conservative Republicans and Govs. Jeff Colyer and Sam Brownback blocked reform sought by a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans. In 2017, Brownback vetoed an expansion bill. The House passed another during the 2019 session, but Senate GOP leadership narrowly staved off a plan to force a vote on it. The complexion of the game changed with the election of Kelly, who made adoption of an expansion law her highest priority for 2020. "We'll get it done," Kelly said. "The
issue is, really, getting it done correctly." Chuck Weber, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, said a Kansas Supreme Court decision declaring Kansans had a constitutional right to abortion was so disturbing to the organization that it conditioned political support for expanding Medicaid on first gaining approval of a constitutional amendment rejecting abortion as a "natural right." The principle benefit of expansion would be extension of primary and preventative care to individuals and families in the coverage gap, including about two-thirds who work. For those who qualify under an expanded model, there
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Sheldon Weisgrau, policy adviser to Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, a coalition of more than 100 organizations supportive of Medicaid expansion, said he was excited the Republican-led 2020 Legislature and Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly could approve a bill. He cautioned advocates to push for a simple program capable of introduction in January 2021. [TIM CARPENTER/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
would be less medical debt and more continuity of coverage. The ACA makes the federal government responsible for 90% of the cost of expanding KanCare. Expansion would funnel resources to all hospitals, which absorb millions of dollars annually in uncompensated care. About 30 rural hospitals in Kansas are considered financially vulnerable, and expansion would inject resources into those facilities. Expansion would have an economic-development influence on communities statewide, but the bulk of funding would go to urban hospitals. "Expanding Medicaid is the right thing to do," said Eddie Herman, president of HaysMed. "Medicaid expansion is not a
silver bullet. It is not going to fix everything that is wrong with rural health care." Over the years, Kansas' red-state voters were captivated by arguments by ACA opponents who maintained Kansas couldn't afford its share of an unrestrained entitlement program. Brownback appealed to opponents of government growth and gained traction with warnings the federal government would pull the rug out from under states by abandoning promises to pay for a burgeoning Medicaid system. Others questioned why the state would agree to enroll able-bodied adults without children in KanCare.
Protesters generated controversy during the 2019 legislative session by unfurling massive banners from the fifth floor of the Capitol criticizing Senate President Susan Wagle, Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, House Speaker Ron Ryckman and House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins for the stateâ€™s inability to pass a Medicaid expansion bill. [MARCH 2019 FILE PHOTO/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
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"You know and I know there’s a recession coming," said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican opposed to changing Medicaid eligibility. "Will Kansas be able to sustain this program?" During the waning days of the 2019 session, the Kansas Senate fell a single vote short of forcing action on the House-passed expansion bill endorsed by Kelly. Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, promised to help develop an alternative. That proposal, endorsed by a GOP-controlled interim committee of the Senate, contained ideas appealing to Democrats and Republicans. It would require Kansas officials to seek federal permission for ideas floated by other states and denied — a process that could take more than a year to complete. It didn't feature a work mandate for able-bodied adults but would require people not employed 20 hours a week to be referred to jobs programs. Expanded KanCare participants would pay 5% of household income in premiums and could be locked out for six months if they fell behind in payments. He recommended a $50 million increase in the state tobacco taxes to subsidize health insurance rates in the private market. The state's share of higher KanCare costs would be financed through a $63 million fee on insurance companies running KanCare and a $31 million surcharge on hospitals. "We can’t put any more stress on the state general fund," Denning said. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, introduced an amended version of the bill approved by the House. Instead of a fixed $25 fee for participants in expanded Medicaid, Hensley would allow the state to grant hardship exemptions to a fee. Hensley also deleted a lockout provision that would block re-enrollment of anyone missing premium payments. Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers said the final Medicaid expansion strategy ought to be simple, effective and sustainable. It should be implemented Jan. 1, 2021, and draw upon experiences of other states. "Every Kansan, no matter their ZIP code, deserves quality health care," said Rogers, who believes delay would have lethal consequences. "There will be people that won't be diagnosed with cancer. They'll be paying more for pharmacy bills. In essence, more people will die."
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly personally praised work of the bipartisan council she formed to study Medicaid expansion in other states and to outline guidelines Kansas lawmakers ought to follow in the 2020 session while crafting a bill broadening eligibility for the health insurance program. [TIM CARPENTER/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
Lee Norman, second from right, a physician and secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said writing a Medicaid expansion bill to give physicians a religious or ethical exemption for certain procedures could be “perilous” if an emergency room doctor refused to treat a patient encountering complications from use of birth control. [TIM CARPENTER/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
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No shortage of controversial ideas for reshaping Kansas tax policy
Former Sen. Steve Morris, center, a Republican and co-chairman of Gov. Laura Kelly’s advisory council on tax policy, said the group’s consensus was to ask the 2020 Legislature to avoid large tax cuts that could place the state budget in peril. To Morris’ left is Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, and to his right is former Sen. Janice Lee, a Democrat. [EVERT NELSON/ THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
on food sales tax. Winterburg said the annual food sales tax rebate was abandoned LAWRENCE — Vashti Winterburg during the administration of Gov. urged Kansas politicians to avoid Sam Brownback to help pay for elimiexperimental tax policy debacles nation of income tax on more than designed to appease wealthy interests 330,000 business owners and reducand instead focus on restoring a protion of income tax rates for individuals. gram offering hundreds of thousands Turning back the clock on the food of lower-income people a modest break tax rebate, she said, would benefit her By Tim Carpenter
The Topeka Capital-Journal
friend Paul, who gets by on disability benefits, food stamps and subsidized housing. “Prior to the Brownback plan,” she said, “Paul would get an annual refund of about $200 a year for the amount he paid in sales tax on groceries. For most of us, $200 isn’t a lot of money. However, $200 is a lot of money for people like Paul.”
There is growing interest in Winterburg’s suggestion, in part because Kansas imposes a 6.5% sales tax on food and city or county sales taxes on groceries push the total over 10% in some communities. In terms of sales tax on food, Kansas’ neighboring states range from no tax in Nebraska and Colorado to a rate of 4.5% in Oklahoma. In Missouri, the rate stands at 1.2%.
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Vashti Winterburg, of Lawrence, said one of the mistakes of the tax reform era led by former Gov. Sam Brownback was elimination of a food sales tax rebate program for modest-income Kansans. She said the 2020 Legislature should reinstitute the policy. [TIM CARPENTER/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
Michael Lucci, a vice president at the Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C., said a 150page report for the Kansas Chamber outlining potential state tax reform strategies could bring welcome “reform and renewal” to perceptions of a state that endured political and financial trauma of experiments in taxation. [EVERT NELSON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly said in an interview that lawmakers in the 2020 session need to be proceed “very cautiously” on tax reform to avoid burning through revenue surpluses and plunging the state back into financial problems exacerbated under former Gov. Sam Brownback. [EVERT NELSON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
“Food is not a luxury item,” said Beth Low-Smith, who works with KC Healthy Kids. “Kansas’ state sales tax on food puts an unfair burden on lowincome families, hurts rural grocers and their employees and drives shoppers across state lines.” There is a bounty of tax reform ideas awaiting the Republican-led Legislature and Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly when the 2020 session convenes Jan. 13 in Topeka. These public officials often wrestle with philosophical implications of change and questions about fairness of reform while debating the financial toll of stripping away property, income and sales tax revenue. Senate and House GOP leaders are expected to renew their call for income tax reform beneficial to multinational corporations and well-to-do individuals that was vetoed by Kelly during the 2019 session. Because of tax changes signed by President Donald Trump in 2017, big companies can return foreign income to the United States at a lower federal tax rate. Kansas companies operating internationally asked the state not to tax those profits. In addition, current state law forbids individual filers from taking the new standard deduction on federal income taxes while continuing to itemize deductions on state tax forms. The Kansas Chamber worked with
the nonprofit Tax Foundation to produce a 150-page report on options for reforming Kansas tax law in the 2020 session. The list included removal of international income from the state income tax base and allowing individuals to itemize tax deductions even if they take the standard deduction on federal tax forms. “We are excited by the prospect that, a few years hence, ‘Kansas’ will cease to be a word of warning and instead be a word that connotes reform and renewal,” said Michael Lucci, a Tax Foundation vice president. “It’s time to turn the page on the debates of the past decade and chart a new course.” At the same time, Kelly said she was supportive of recommendations to the Legislature from her bipartisan advisory council established to conduct an 18-month study of tax issues. “What they have done is come up with some sort of low-hanging fruit,” Kelly said. “Things that we could go after right now that we might actually be able to afford to do and then spend the next year looking deeper and coming up with, probably, a staged reform of tax structure.” The council embraced resumption of the food sales tax credit. Members of the panel also said the state should rekindle the program dropped in 2003 that could provide a state subsidy of
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Gov. Laura Kelly’s tax policy advisory council recommended the 2020 Legislature bring into balance the state’s reliance on income, property and sales taxes to run government. The council also urged lawmakers to adopt a sales tax on out-of-state businesses selling products online and assess sales tax on digital product transactions, including newspaper subscriptions. [TIM CARPENTER/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
Michael Austin, director of the Kansas Policy Institute’s entrepreneurial center on government, recommended the 2020 Legislature seek options to lower the state’s income, sales and property tax rates. He advised against cutting sales tax on food, saying it wouldn’t encourage Kansans to work more. [TIM CARPENTER/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
perhaps $100 million annually to help local government curtail property taxes. In addition, the council suggested application of sales tax to digital transactions and subscription services as well as sales by out-of-state retailers facilitated by third-party companies, such as Amazon. The governor’s tax advisers recommended exempting local government road and bridge repair projects from a state-mandated lid on property tax increases because the limit hindered development. Michael Austin, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Government at the Kansas Policy Institute, said pressure from the Kelly administration to increase tax revenue was tied to plans to boost state spending. He said Kansas should reallocate money from wasteful programs rather than raise taxes. “Optimal tax policy means to lower the entire income, sales and property
tax rate,” Austin said. Sister Therese Bangert, representing Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, said lawmakers should commit to the state earned income tax credit championed by the President Ronald Reagan as the best anti-poverty, pro-family reform. The Legislature should deepen the state’s resolve to maintain a full home mortgage interest deduction on state income taxes, said Patrick Vogelsberg, of the Kansas Association of Realtors. The 100% deduction was slashed in 2012 to 70% and frozen at 50% in 2015. In 2017, legislation repealing much of Brownback’s tax reform program launched in 2012 included a provision restoring the mortgage interest deduction to 100% by 2020. “Tax benefits specifically for home ownership should be prioritized,” Vogelsberg said. “The state of Kansas should be encouraging home ownership rather than making home ownership harder.”
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Concerns with at-risk funding primes debate for education policy
Tina Gibson’s fifth-grade classroom is a sanctuary in a school where most students have experienced trauma and receive free or reduced lunch. The objective, she said, is for all kids to be successful. [EVERT NELSON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
By Sherman Smith The Topeka Capital-Journal
TOPEKA — Tina Gibson’s fifthgrade classroom features a “peace zone,” cereal for snacking and a smattering of crickets nestled in 2-liter plastic bottles. Gibson, who has taught for 25 years at Logan Elementary School in the Seaman district of Shawnee County, monitors a class of 20 students for signs of struggle and leverages resources made available through funding for at-risk students. “It truly breaks my heart when I see a fifth grader come in who’s reading at a first-grade level,” Gibson said. “When they turn 16 in a few years, what kind of success are they going to have?
“I know people will blame it on school. Why do they get to fifth grade without having this skill? Some of those are transient families. Some of them are in foster care. I’ve had kids who have been in 12 different homes within a few months’ time.” Public schools in Kansas receive more than $400 million annually in funds earmarked for providing educational opportunities, interventions and services to at-risk students. A new audit of how those funds are spent could dominate education policy in the upcoming session as lawmakers — largely freed from the shackles of a decadelong court battle over school funding — look for ways to install accountability. Additionally, a $50 million
Mark Tallman, of the Kansas Association of School Boards, said lawmakers wants to know how districts are spending at-risk dollars and what they are getting for the investment. [2018 FILE PHOTO/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
component of at-risk funding is scheduled to sunset unless the Legislature takes action to preserve the funding this session. These dollars are funneled to individual schools that have a high density of at-risk students. At Logan Elementary, 80% of the students receive free or reduced-cost lunch. Most have experienced some form of trauma — they might come from single-parent homes, live below the poverty line, have lost a loved one, or witness alcohol or drug abuse at home. Gibson looks at her students’ attendance, emotional challenges and academic performance. The teacher can call upon the services of a counselor or paraprofessional for assistance, and she benefits from the
training she receives. Her class is full of success stories. By mingling all kinds of students in the same classroom, Gibson said, the atrisk kids are enriched by language and benefit from project-based learning. In December, her students were evaluating the livelihood of crickets in ecosystems — rock, dirt and grass inside a bottle — the students built and maintain. Some crickets will live longer because of the attention they receive. On one side of the room, a pillowy resting area gives the children a place to find peace when emotions intensify. Guides tacked to the wall offer various strategies for working through colorcoded emotions. Several students said they like to go there when they feel blue. High anxiety may require a visit
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Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Republican from Louisburg who oversees the education committee, said an audit of funding for at-risk students showed little oversight. The Legislature, she said, is “nothing more than the ATM.” [2018 FILE PHOTO/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said lawmakers should restore due process rights to teachers. [MAY 2019 FILE PHOTO/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
to the “wellness room.” The goal, Gibson said, is to reach every child. The teacher said she couldn’t do that without the support of at-risk specialists. “We want all students to be successful,” Gibson said. “They are our future. They are going to be running our local governments, our businesses, providing services, and we want them to be able to be successful, to be able to thrive. And in order to do that, we have to get them from where they are to that point.” In early December, lawmakers learned an audit of 20 Kansas school districts showed most of the at-risk money was dedicated to teachers and programs beneficial to all students. Mark Tallman, of the Kansas Association of School Boards, said schools have used at-risk funding for such purposes as recruiting and retaining teachers in high-poverty areas, even though they don’t only teach atrisk students. After the state introduced new assessment tests in 2015, Tallman said, the performance of at-risk students got worse for several years.
postage, things like that.” Baumgardner said other education topics this session will include consideration of a tuition debt waiver program for OB-GYN students who agree to work for a number of years in a rural area of the state. The senator also wants to revisit her proposal to tether foster children to an academic coach and iPad for online coursework. Children in the state’s foster care system have an estimated 35% graduation rate in Kansas, Baumgardner said. The number isn’t known for sure because neither the Kansas Department of Education nor the Kansas Department for Children and Families tracks the data. “We’ve got these silos,” Baumgardner said, “and by golly, they are going to need to be working together, talking to each other, because they need to focus on how we best serve these kids, and that’s not happening.” Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, expressed interest in restoring teacher tenure. The Legislature stripped due process rights with the late-night passage of a bill
Then, when the Legislature injected new funding into the school finance system, test scores stabilized. The argument, Tallman said, is that it will take more time for scores to turn around. The school finance plan that finally won approval in 2019 from the Kansas Supreme Court will continue to add hundreds of millions of dollars in annual funding over the next three years. “In general, legislators are wanting to know how are districts spending money, why, what are they getting for it?” Tallman said. “With funding comes scrutiny, and we need to be prepared for that.” The audit showed at-risk funding was poorly supervised at the state level and inadequately implemented by school districts. “We are nothing more than the ATM, and how that money is being spent is pretty fairly loosely overseen,” said Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Republican from Louisburg who oversees the education committee. “I don’t think there’s anyone in the state who would say post prom is how that money was supposed to be spent, or
in 2014 that was signed into law by former Gov. Sam Brownback. “One of the travesties that occurred during the Brownback administration was the repeal of teacher due process,” Hensley said. “I think we have to reinstate teacher due process. I think that’s a big issue. I don’t know if we can accomplish that. I think the votes are there.” Gov. Laura Kelly said the Supreme Court, which retained jurisdiction over the school finance lawsuit to ensure the funding is delivered to schools, is “just right across the street.” “I think the court told us very clearly last year that we finally met equity and adequacy, but we also know what that means going forward,” Kelly said. “We can’t just rest on that. We need to look at what those terms mean this year and the year after and the year after and address it.” Kelly’s council on education, a bipartisan group of stakeholders from across the state, has delivered a list of recommendations that deal with public-private partnerships, preparation for college and the workforce, and a focus on “market value assets.”
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Governor, lawmakers, advocates focus on foster care crisis
Natalie Zarate, who entered foster care when she was 11, talks about her experience to raise awareness for reform and let other foster kids know they aren’t alone. [EVERT NELSON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
By Sherman Smith The Topeka Capital-Journal
TOPEKA — Natalie Zarate entered state custody when she was 11 years old, removed from a physically abusive mother and placed in a group home for foster children. Now 23, she trembles when she thinks about her time at Embed Youthville in Newton.
Physicians placed Zarate on “crazy medications” she later learned were unnecessary, including one that caused her to hallucinate. She was confined to her room most of the time. If she acted out, she was sent to the “timeout room,” a small space behind a metal door that was used to tame the behavior of kids who were out of control. Sometimes, staff banished her to the timeout room for trying to defend
herself from older kids. “I remember one time being crushed and slammed by five different people,” Zarate said. “I’m 12 years old at the time. I weigh about 97 pounds solid. That’s a lot for a child to have to deal with, just being slammed and tossed around.” Nickaila Sandate, president and CEO of EmberHope Youthville, said the safety and well-being of children “is at
the forefront of everything we do” and that all reported incidents are taken seriously. When Zarate left Youthville, she bounced for six years among foster parents and a series of temporary homes within the state’s child welfare system. Zarate, who lives in the Kansas City area, now volunteers with Kansas Appleseed and other child advocacy groups. She shares her story to let
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Natalie Zarate recalls being slammed to the ground by five people while living at a group home in Newton. [EVERT NELSON/THE CAPITALJOURNAL]
other foster kids know they aren’t alone and to add to the voices calling for change. “Sharing my story is going to touch the most people,” Zarate said. “They don’t really understand what happens behind closed doors.” Lawmakers have intensified their interest in addressing the failings of a child welfare system in crisis, and many are frustrated that Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration hasn’t shown more progress in her first year in office. Kelly said there is no one better suited to the task than Laura Howard, her secretary for the Department for Children and Families, and that a funding boost authorized by the Legislature in 2019 will make a difference. “There were just no social workers to do anything on family preservation or anything on reintegration, so kids were going into the foster care system and not able to get out because we just didn’t have the resources,” Kelly said. “The state just wasn’t holding up their end of the bargain.” An investigation by The Topeka Capital-Journal and KCUR highlighted the severe instability in the foster care system. Kansas added thousands of children to the system as the Legislature adopted policies through the Hope Act that reduced aid to struggling families. The result was a spike in runaways. At any time, up to 80 children are missing from state custody. Children on the street are vulnerable to human trafficking, and the investigation highlighted the case of Hope Zeferjohn, a Topeka native who is one of 13 known cases in which a girl fled state custody, was trafficked for sex and sent to prison for prostitutionrelated crimes. Zeferjohn asked Kelly for a pardon, and child advocates have proposed legislation that would offer a path for victims of human trafficking to clear their criminal record. It remains unclear whether the Legislature will show an appetite for restoring food assistance to lowincome families or other provisions of the Hope Act. “We know there’s a direct correlation between that and the number of kids in our welfare system,” Kelly said, “because we’re already talking about some pretty vulnerable families. You
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Gov. Laura Kelly said the state wasn’t holding up its end of the bargain for children in the foster care system. The Legislature in 2019 provided funding for additional social workers, and the agency is focused on family preservation efforts. [EVERT NELSON/THE
Hope Zeferjohn, a Topeka native, was placed into the Kansas foster care system, where she became a victim of the commercial sex trade, ran away from state custody and was sent to prison for aggravated human trafficking. [2017 FILE PHOTO/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
take what little safety net we’re providing out from underneath them, they crumble — the kids go in the system. So I hope that the Legislature will recognize that and do what they need to do.” Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Republican from Louisburg, said lawmakers may be willing to invest more in family members who take care of children who are removed from a home in lieu of placing the kids in foster care. Currently, the state provides $10 per day to the family member who takes care of the child. “When a child arrives with what may be just a backpack full of items, $10 a day isn’t enough to make sure that child has clothing and shoes and personal items that they’re going to need and the food they’re going to need,” Baumgardner said. “If the goal through the Hope Act was to keep a child
within the family, we have to do more to address what is going to that family member until the issues at home get addressed.” Kansas Appleseed, which sued the state over the instability of the foster care system, is pursuing legislation that would create an office of the child advocate. The office would be administered by itself, independent of DCF, with leadership appointed by the governor and chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court. The appointments would be confirmed by the Senate. The goal is to add transparency to the foster care system and look at systemic problems, such as children not being screened quickly, problems with home visits or a lack of mental health services. “It’s going to take a long time to fix the Kansas foster care system,” said Joey Hentzler, director of advocacy
with Kansas Appleseed. “Not one session, not two sessions, but maybe five to 10 years of work.” The two nonprofit contractors who handle child placement services for the state — Saint Francis Ministries and KVC Kansas — have outlined priorities for the Legislature that focus on prevention efforts through a wide range of programs and services. Examples include programs that provide early childhood education, mental health services, substance use treatment, and housing and transportation. Other initiatives include the implementation of juvenile crisis intervention centers and reducing the wait list for psychiatric residential treatment facilities. Christie Appelhanz, executive director of the Children’s Alliance, said it remains critical that the Legislature
adopt the two dozen recommendations made a year ago by the Kansas Child Welfare Task Force. Some of those ideas, like investing in social workers and participation in the federal Families First Prevention Services Act, already were addressed by the Legislature. Appelhanz said maximizing investments in Family First is a top priority for this session, along with increasing administrative rates for child placement agencies so they, too, can hire more social workers. “We can’t afford to allocate any more resources to feel-good ideas that have little basis in fact or quantifiable results for children and families,” Appelhanz said. “When the combined knowledge of the experts in the state have come up with a plan, emotional responses should be ignored until we implement that plan.”
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Recession hangover driving quest for eco-devo remedies
A panel convened in Topeka discusses how to ignite the Kansas economy in 2020 and beyond. From left to right at back are Commerce Secretary David Toland; U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan.; and Alan Cobb, president and CEO of the Kansas Chamber. [EVERT NELSON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
By Tim Carpenter, The Topeka Capital-Journal
TOPEKA — Brookings Institution policy director Marek Gootman moderated a panel discussion on economic development with a congressman, commerce secretary and chamber of commerce president. Gootman, who works to bridge gaps between think-tank perspective and real-world action, ended up stealing
his guests’ thunder with a buffet of statistics and theories about how technology, population, education and innovation factored into a region’s ability to match talent to opportunities for growth. And, he said, the metrics in Kansas add up to profound problems of economic competitiveness. “Kansas and its economies have not recovered from the recession,” said Gootman, who considered conditions best in the Wichita and Kansas City
Brookings Institution consultant Marek Gootman said the Kansas economy hasn’t recovered from the Great Recession of a decade ago, and a challenge for economic development policymakers was that rural areas of the state have twice as many people with high job skills than jobs that match their occupational capacity for work. [SUBMITTED]
markets. “The rest of the state? Brutal. More than twice as many people who are in that high-skill category than there are jobs to occupy them.” His next bite of oxygen in the Topeka meeting: Among people with a high school degree but without a four-year college diploma, rural Kansas has four times as many people seeking a job meeting standards of self-sufficiency. It reflected growing apprehension about the status of economic
development in Kansas and concern about efficacy of taxpayer-financed policies intended to spur growth. The sense of urgency can be revealed by the frequency of expert debates on the subject, such as the one Gootman led in Topeka. The Kansas Department of Commerce is financing the first comprehensive evaluation in decades of Kansas’ economic programs and prospects. The Kansas Chamber, a heavyweight lobbying organization,
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Kansas Chamber president Alan Cobb, being interviewed by a reporter at the Capitol, said a reasonable goal for Kansas economic development in 10 years would be the ability to keep pace with the national average on economic growth. He said Kansas has consistently lagged behind neighboring states. [EVERT NELSON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
sponsored a 150-page study with two dozen ideas with potential to liberate the economy. The Kansas Legislature contributed an audit affirming suspicions that most of the state lottery revenue earmarked for economic development wasn’t being spent in accordance with Kansas law. It will spark conversation among lawmakers in the 2020 session. And, there is bipartisan frustration that state-backed incentives favor urban areas, to the detriment of smaller communities. The state’s economic strategies aren’t nimble enough to keep pace with changing conditions,
said Rep. Don Hineman, a Republican from Dighton in southwest Kansas. “The 1950s era of Ozzie and Harriet and Ward and June Cleaver isn’t coming back. It’s gone,” said Hineman, a 72-year-old rancher and farmer. Rep. Jason Probst, D-Hutchinson, said the state failed to nurture the small-business ecosystems. “We need to be (as) willing to throw money at small business and entrepreneurs as we are at winning these big contracts for big companies,” Probst said. Gov. Laura Kelly and David Toland,
secretary of the state Department of Commerce, poured $800,000 into a study by the McKinsey consulting firm to analyze the economy, outline a blueprint for seizing potential and help design a way to accelerate progress on economic indicators ranging from gross domestic product to population growth and labor participation. The last time the state waded into its economic development mindset, the result was the profound RedwoodKrider report in 1986. It was embraced by Republicans and Democrats and served as the North Star for government officials looking for economic spark.
“That really set the path for economic development in the state of Kansas and provided us with great data,” Kelly said. “We need to redo that. The economy, the jobs out there — everything is so very, very different.” Toland, who previously worked on economic development in Allen County, said “Framework for Growth” should be finished by March. The report will concentrate on cornerstones of aviation and agriculture, he said, but explore prospects in advanced manufacturing and transportation logistics. It is important to
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State Rep. Jason Probst, D-Hutchinson, second from left, said the state of Kansas bankrolled multimillion-dollar investments in large economic development projects but for the past generation didn’t do much to help small-business entrepreneurs. Probst said the state could improve prosperity by supporting a small-business ecosystem in which startups thrive. [TIM CARPENTER/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
Michael Lucci, a vice president with the Tax Foundation and a contributor to a report on how to make Kansas more economically competitive, said regional competitors, such as Indiana and Iowa, modernized tax codes to help businesses thriv. He said it was “time for Kansans to join their ranks” by adopting tax reforms that promote government efficiency and private-sector job growth. [EVERT NELSON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
outsource the research to avoid bias and deliver an ambitious guide for the next decade, he said. “They don’t have a dog in the fight. They’re coming in neutral,” the secretary said. “The governor wants, and I want, an unbiased, objective analysis of whether we’re getting that return on investment with existing incentive programs.” Kelly said the report would allow the administration to recommend which programs to retain and which to phase out. “I’m curious to see what they come up with,” said House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita. “I think it’s good to scrutinize these programs.” In October, a report by the Kansas Legislature’s auditing division showed state law wasn’t followed in appropriation of $42 million from the Economic Development Initiatives Fund in fiscal year 2018. Only 18% set aside for economic development from the lottery was allocated to development programs under rules set in statute. “Their purpose needs to be fully defined and measured. Maybe they don’t even need to exist,” said Sen. Julia Lynn, a Republican from Olathe. At the conference in Topeka, Gootman let his guests — U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., Kansas Chamber president Allan Cobb and Toland — chew on statistics of Kansas economic malaise. He said Kansas fell from 24th to 43rd among states in employment growth since 2008. In the following decade, Kansas slipped from 14th to 35th in GDP. Kansas’ average wage fell from 21st to 45th during that 10-year span. It helped fuel a population exodus from Kansas to such states as Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and California. Marshall, who represents the 1st District covering most of western Kansas, said that to be competitive, Kansas communities required quality schools, affordable health care and reliable infrastructure, including high-speed internet. He said government could boost economic activity by dropping federal regulations and taxes. Somehow, he said, Kansans must convince young people to stay and be part of an economic resurgence. “My vision is to pass along the same American dream that I got to live,” Marshall said.
18 | PEOPLE, POLICY & POLITICS
Court ruling eliminating pain, suffering damage cap alarms industry
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, and Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, hold considerable influence over whether the 2020 Legislature votes on resolutions to place a constitutional amendment on statewide ballots to reverse a Kansas Supreme Court decision last year that the state’s financial cap on noneconomic awards in court cases was unconstitutional. [TIM CARPENTER/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
By Tim Carpenter The Topeka Capital-Journal
TOPEKA — Christopher Mann, a victim of a drunk driver, wants to dissuade Kansas lawmakers from eliminating a newly articulated fundamental right of plaintiffs in personal injury cases to allow a jury to decide the meaning of fair compensation for a person’s pain and suffering. The controversy erupted when the Kansas Supreme Court issued a decision declaring the state’s noneconomic damage cap a violation of the Kansas
Constitution. In a case arising from a Wichita traffic crash that injured Diana Hilburn, the justices ditched a law that set an artificial upper limit on financial compensation. That meant damages would be determined on a case-bycase basis by a trial jury listening to evidence. The ruling hinged on a fragment of Section 5 of the constitution, which says, “trial by jury shall be inviolate.” “The Hilburn decision helps victims of impaired driving crashes because it restores victims’ rights to trial by jury and it eliminates a major barrier to
Jerry Slaughter, center, represents the Kansas Medical Society at a meeting of the governor’s Medicaid advisory panel. KMS maintains the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision to declare unconstitutional a state cap on noneconomic, or “pain and suffering,” damages in a traffic case didn’t affect the cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice claims. [TIM CARPENTER/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
full and fair compensation for victims for their noneconomic injuries,” said Mann, a national board member with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and a former Lawrence police officer. “Damage caps benefit impaired drivers and their insurance companies. Damage caps erase the impaired driver’s responsibility for the victim’s noneconomic injuries that exceed the cap.” In June, the Supreme Court issued the opinion and fashioned another issue for consideration during the 2020 legislative session.
The Kansas Medical Society and the Kansas Hospital Association shared cautionary perspective on the court’s ruling, because the opinion appeared to have exempted noneconomic loss in medical malpractice lawsuits. The Kansas Trial Lawyers Association hailed the ruling as long overdue. The Kansas Association of Property and Casualty Insurance Companies and the Kansas Chamber objected to the court’s ruling because Hilburn v. Enerpipe would unravel a system designed to predictably deliver compensation to crash victims and keep
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Eric Stafford, a lobbyist with the Kansas Chamber, said the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform ranked Kansas’ legal climate fifth best in the nation in 2007, but opinions issued by the Kansas Supreme Court, including a 2019 ruling that the state’s cap on noneconomic awards was unconstitutional, contributed to a decline in the state’s position to 32nd. [TIM CARPENTER/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, left, D-Topeka, and House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, said they would oppose efforts by the 2020 Legislature to place on a statewide ballot a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution to thwart a Kansas Supreme Court decision declaring the state’s cap on noneconomic damages in court cases unconstitutional. [TIM CARPENTER/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
insurance rates affordable. Both organizations warned the state’s highest court expanded defendants’ potential exposure in personal injury cases, a move certain to drive up insurance costs. “Kansas consumers renewing or purchasing new policies will see higher rates. Insurance rates in Kansas will only continue to increase as companies see higher litigation and settlement costs,” said Marlee Carpenter, a lobbyist with the property and casualty insurance companies. Economic damages are out-ofpocket losses of a plaintiff resulting from the injury, such as medical bills, lost wages or property losses. Noneconomic damages compensate a plaintiff for subjective losses, such as disability or disfigurement, loss of companionship, reputation or “enjoyment of life.” The Supreme Court’s opinion struck law limiting the total amount recoverable by each party from all defendants for noneconomic loss to $325,000. The
constitution or impose a new state law in response to the decision. Gov. Laura Kelly said she didn’t believe responding to the judicial branch on this issue would be a top objective during the 2020 session opening in January. “Obviously, this is something for the Legislature to consider,” the Democratic governor said. “It’s not going to be super high on my priority list one way or another.” Rachelle Colombo, incoming executive director at the Kansas Medical Society, said the organization was opposed to action by the Legislature that could jeopardize a cap on medical malpractice damages that appeared to be sustained by the Supreme Court. “The court did not speak with specificity regarding the Hilburn ruling’s impact on medical malpractice liability,” she said. “Though the court’s own public information officer distributed a statement indicating the malpractice caps are unaffected, questions remain
cap was held at $250,000 from 1988 to 2014 but was scheduled to increase to $350,000 in 2022. Hilburn was a passenger in a vehicle that was rear-ended by a large truck in 2010 operated by Enerpipe driver Jimmy Harris. A jury awarded her $33,490 for medical expenses and $301,500 in noneconomic damages for a total of $335,000. The trial judge reduced the award to nearly $284,000 to bring the amount into compliance with the noneconomic damage cap of $250,000. On appeal, the Supreme Court agreed in a 4-2 decision with Hilburn’s position that the cap violated her constitutional right to have a jury determine compensation appropriate to redress injuries. The two dissenting justices said the court shouldn’t waver from the court’s own 2012 analysis in Miller v. Johnson that affirmed the cap on noneconomic damages. An interim committee of the Legislature declined to make a recommendation on whether to amend the
about how the court’s intention to limit the ruling to personal injury will be applied or upheld. Understanding the ruling and its impact will require continued study.” Eric Stafford, vice president of the Kansas Chamber, said legislators had a responsibility to restore some form of the cap structure to neutralize leverage seized by plaintiffs filing lawsuits after crashes. He said Kansas businesses deserved stability of a system that was designed to “protect against excessive and frivolous litigation.” The Legislature had no business seeking new state law or an amendment to the constitution to thwart the Supreme Court’s view that precise judgment of juries had to trump the arbitrary perspective of politicians, said David Morantz, who represents the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association. “You know, voters, we know better than you,” Morantz said while characterizing three decades of legislative rationale. “We know better than you how to evaluate these cases.”
20 | PEOPLE, POLICY & POLITICS
New transportation plan, end of highway robbery shape budget outlook
David Sorell, operations manager for the Salina Airport Authority, looks at the reconstructed ramp near Hangar 959, Big Bertha Hangar, now the headquarters of 1 Vision Aviation, which repairs and maintains airplanes. Kansas State Polytechnic Campus received a $720,000 grant to reconstruct the ramp at the Salina Regional Airport from the Kansas Airport Improvement Program, which is overseen by the Kansas Department of Transportation. [AARON ANDERS/SALINA JOURNAL]
By Sherman Smith The Topeka Capital-Journal
TOPEKA — As Kansas lawmakers prepare to adopt a new plan for funding highways and other infrastructure across the state, the Kansas Department of Transportation is shifting gears with its strategy for working with local communities. KDOT Secretary Julie Lorenz said the catalyst for transportation projects used to be job creation. Now, with the state
economy stressed by a shortage of workers, the emphasis is on quality of life. “We are focused on how do we make Kansas communities livelier and more attractive, places where people want to live and raise their kids, and their kids stay and create forever homes,” Lorenz said. “Transportation investments can be a part of that.” With that vision in mind, the agency has crafted a new 10-year plan, which it calls Forward, that would create an evolving pipeline of new projects.
Adoption of the new transportation plan, which appears to have strong bipartisan support, will be a key component of the roughly $8.6 billion state budget that lawmakers will craft throughout the session. Gov. Laura Kelly plans to phase out the annual sweeps of cash from the “bank of KDOT” that began in 2011 and resulted in the transfer of $2 billion into the state general fund. A new five-year budget outlook produced in December by the Kansas Legislative Research Department
shows the annual $238.1 million transfer could end immediately without sending the budget into the red. The Legislature in the 2019 session gave KDOT a one-time payment of $50 million, which helped fund a popular cost-share program for local projects. KDOT received nearly 92 applications and issued grants for 22 projects, including street repairs, turning lanes, a bike trail in Liberal and improvements at Salina Regional Airport. The interest in the cost-share
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Kansas Department of Transportation secretary Julie Lorenz said the agency has crafted a new 10-year plan called Forward that would maintain current tax rates and create an evolving pipeline of new projects. [EVERT NELSON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said lawmakers will need to be careful as they put together this year’s budget. The five-year outlook shows a dwindling ending balance. [EVERT NELSON/ THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
program, which required local matching funds, “demonstrates pent-up demand,” Lorenz said. While developing the long-term plan, the agency engaged in 2,000 conversations with meetings across the state. Communities identified $18 billion in wants and needs, Lorenz said, and KDOT is working to sort and prioritize those projects. “When you think about the economics associated with projects, there is a multiplier effect, so for every dollar you spend on a construction project, you see it ripple through the economy three to four times,” Lorenz said. “That’s super helpful in the immediate moment, but where you get the real benefit of transportation investment is when you decrease travel times or you increase travel reliability. That’s what you’re going for in the long term.” Lorenz said new road projects will have crews burying conduit in the ditch in case a telecom company ever wants to install fiber for broadband network — a cost-effective way to bring high-speed
internet to rural areas. Unlike T-Works, which identified 10 years worth of projects at the start, the proposal for Forward is to identify new projects every two years. The idea, Lorenz said, is to keep pace with the changing landscapes of communities across Kansas and adapt to accelerating technology. KDOT also hopes the new approach will keep communities and lawmakers engaged with the program for the full decade. “I am happy to say it’s a really bipartisan issue, and it should be,” Lorenz said. “The roads we drive on, they’re not Republican roads or Democratic roads. They’re roads. The needs and the benefits are so obvious. If you’re on a bumpy road or there’s a pothole, or you don’t have a shoulder to pull off on, or you’re stuck in traffic, you know it. It’s not like, ‘I wonder if there’s a problem.’ ” The state’s budget outlook has been bolstered by better-than-expected revenue collections and a $1.1 billion surplus from the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2019.
The five-year profile provided to lawmakers in December assumes an immediate end to highway fund sweeps and adds escalating costs for school funding and the state pension system. Additionally, it would restore about $175 million in annual transfers for legacy programs that offset local taxes and support local road projects. Those programs haven’t received funding in 15 years. With those adjustments, the ending balance is expected to decrease from $945.5 million after the current fiscal year to just $5.5 million in 2024. “I think as we move forward we’re going to have to still be careful in looking at our budget,” said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “We still have a lot of areas that need attention from the past. But I know that we want to be able to fund transportation, so we want to make sure those dedicated dollars go to transportation.” She said a lot of legislators also are
interested in seeing a comprehensive mental health plan for Kansas that includes regional beds, as well as some other long-term beds. “It’s not doing our communities any good to either run people through the ER or through the jail system when they’re individuals who need help, and if we can get them back on their feet, get them back to their jobs, then they can start helping and contributing to our communities,” McGinn said. From Kelly’s perspective, her administration is performing triage on services across all agencies that were wrecked by years of revenue shortfalls and leadership deficiencies. Kelly said she approaches the problem “just like an ER doctor, going where the most critical needs are.” “That’s pretty much the way that we have approached it last year, and we’ll continue that,” she said. “I mean, we are on the road to recovery, but we’re not out of the ICU yet. We’ll just have to keep taking a close look at critical needs.”
22 | PEOPLE, POLICY & POLITICS
Kansas thrust into abortion debate of constitutional proportions
Gov. Laura Kelly said in an interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal that she didn’t believe it necessary for the Kansas Legislature to place civil rights of women up for a popular vote by placing an anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution on statewide ballots in 2020. [EVERT NELSON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
By Tim Carpenter The Topeka Capital-Journal
TOPEKA — Barbara Saldivar and Brandi Fisher epitomize the uncompromising clash of opinion ruffling the Kansas political landscape in the wake of a state court decision declaring women possess a constitutional right to abortion. These two help define the boundaries of argument as the 2020 Legislature
prepares to consider whether to place on statewide ballots an amendment to the Kansas Constitution reversing a Kansas Supreme Court opinion declaring the inalienable right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness applies to women deciding whether to continue or end a pregnancy. Saldivar, director of the Kansas chapter of Concerned Women of America, said the Supreme Court decision was a “horribly egregious” assault
on unborn children. She blamed activist judges for fabricating guaranteed access to abortion into the state’s bill of rights. And, she said, anti-abortion voters should rise up and quash the judicial overreach. “We see it as very necessary that an amendment be added to the Kansas state constitution to assure that the unborn have the right to life and pursuit of happiness,” she said. Fisher, executive director of the
nonpartisan Mainstream Coalition, said health care discrimination against women shouldn’t be enshrined in the constitution. “We urge legislators to reject this proposed response, and instead to support expanded access to health care, science-based health education, more funding for public schools, higher wages, family leave and any number of other policies that have been proven to reduce the rate of unwanted
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Jeffrey Chanay, chief deputy attorney general for the state of Kansas, said the Kansas Supreme Court in early 2019 concluded Section 1 of the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights allowed a woman to make her own decisions about body, health, family formation, family health and abortion. [FILE PHOTO/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
pregnancies,” Fisher said. The ruckus has been brewing since April, when the Supreme Court struck down the state’s first-in-the-nation ban on a specific abortion method. The opinion shielded the right to end a pregnancy in Kansas even if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade. The core of the dispute stemmed from the 2015 challenge to Kansas’ ban on a second-trimester procedure performed by Overland Park abortion doctors. They filed suit against a law signed by then-Gov. Sam Brownback to prohibit dilation and evacuation abortions except to save the life or prevent impairment of the mother’s health. The method is called “dismemberment abortion” by anti-abortion activists. A Shawnee County District Court judge issued an injunction asserting the constitutional right to abortion in Kansas. In the Kansas Court of Appeals, Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s appeal ended in an extraordinary 7-7 tie that threw the issue to the Supreme Court. A 6-1 majority
answered that the bill of rights protected the ability of people to control their body in terms of abortion. “We are now asked,” the court’s majority said, “is this declaration of rights more than an idealized aspiration? And, if so, do the substantive rights include a woman’s right to make decisions about her body, including the decision whether to continue her pregnancy? We answer these questions, ‘Yes.’ “ Teresa Woody, an attorney for the plaintiff physicians in the case, said there was no need for amendment of the constitution. The high court did nothing to prevent abortion from continuing to be regulated as long as the state established a compelling government interest and regulations are narrowly structured to promote that interest, said Rachel Sweet, of Planned Parenthood Great Plains in Overland Park. Brittany Jones, a lobbyist with the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, said the Supreme Court’s decision could be interpreted broadly enough to imperil dozens of abortion statutes and to encourage demands for other rights
Leslie Butsch, left, an organizer with Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said during a forum in Lawence that she was optimistic that Kansans’ affinity for selfdetermination in decisions about health care would derail a proposed Kansas constitutional amendment limiting access to abortion. [FILE PHOTO/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
cloaked in constitutional exaggeration. “It is not a very big legal leap to say that this case could open the door for an absolute right to assisted suicide, recreational marijuana, gender transition surgeries paid for by the government and a host of other things,” Jones said. Constitutional amendments can be placed on Kansas ballots if passed by two-thirds majorities of the House and Senate. A simple majority of people voting on the question would decide the issue. While governors have no formal role in consideration of constitutional amendments, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly said she didn’t think an abortion amendment necessary. “I have never felt that we ought to put someone’s civil rights up to a popular vote,” Kelly said. She said Kansans adopted a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2005, but she was skeptical the same measure would prevail if the vote occurred now. An interim committee of the Kansas Senate recommended in October that lawmakers consider an anti-abortion
amendment when the legislative session starts in January. One element of the anti-abortion movement prefers a clean amendment simply reversing the Supreme Court, while others seek to include “personhood” language in the amendment to potentially block all forms of abortion. The Kansas Catholic Conference let it be known the organization was prepared to play hardball to influence legislators’ views. Chuck Weber, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, said the organization’s support for expansion of Medicaid to 130,000 to 150,000 low-income Kansans — Kelly’s top priority in 2020 — hinged on passage of the constitutional amendment, as well as a statute blocking use of Medicaid for abortion services, and of a law granting medical professionals an opportunity to invoke religious objections to abortion. “The Catholic desire of authentic affordable health care for all people, regardless of socioeconomic status, is inspired by the example of Jesus, the great physician,” Weber said.
24 | PEOPLE, POLICY & POLITICS
ACLU pushes for probation reform with new report
The American Civil Liberties Union discovered 1,607 people in Kansas were sent to prison in 2018 for technical violations to probation. The organization plans to introduce legislation to reform the system. [EVERT NELSON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
By Sherman Smith The Topeka Capital-Journal
TOPEKA — A new report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that more than 40% of inmates who enter Kansas prisons are being incarcerated for technical violations to probation. The report argues for reform of the probation system, which is meant to keep people out of prison but instead has become a primary pipeline to a costly and overcrowded corrections system. Judges set probation conditions that include mandatory check-ins, curfew and an order to stay away from undefined “disreputable” characters. Probation alone carries a fee of $125 to $500 for 12 months, depending on jurisdiction, along with additional costs for such things as rehabilitation
programs, rent in a halfway house, an ankle monitor or a Breathalyzer. “What we’re seeing is these people on probation are given high standards to meet and barriers to success,” said Letitia Harmon, policy director for ACLU Kansas. “Probation actually feeds the incarceration crisis because we’re imprisoning people simply for violating these conditions.” The ACLU plans to introduce a bill that would reshape probation in four ways. The proposed legislation arrives amid bipartisan momentum for criminal justice reform and ideas for reducing the prison population. Lawmakers are expected to grapple with the decision to transfer at least 360 inmates to a for-profit facility in Arizona. The Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission uncovered problems surrounding suspended driver’s licenses, and Gov. Laura Kelly wants
to bolster programs to prepare inmates for release. The ACLU hopes to build support for probation reform by making an economic argument. The cost to the state for someone in prison is $72.36 per day, Harmon said, but just $7.10 per day for someone on probation. In 2018, the ACLU found, Kansas prisons admitted 2,019 people who committed new crimes. An additional 1,607 people were sent to prison solely for technical violations to probation. The 2019 numbers were following a similar pattern. Probation violations were contributing 44% of the new prison arrivals and accounted for 10% of the total prison population. “They’re there not because they did something violent, not because they are a threat to public safety, but because they missed a check-in or they
Letitia Harmon, policy director for ACLU of Kansas, said “people on probation are given high standards to meet and barriers to success.” [SUBMITTED]
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Gov. Laura Kelly, Sen. Kevin Braun, R-Kansas City, Kan., and Leavenworth Mayor Jermaine Wilson listen to business owners and former inmates during a discussion session in December in Leavenworth. Kelly’s vision for state prisons is to transform them into rehabilitation centers that prepare inmates for the workforce. [SHERMAN SMITH/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
couldn’t pay a fee, or they weren’t able to find employment,” Harmon said. The ACLU’s proposed changes start with an earned compliance credit. Instead of punishing probationers for breaking the rules, they would see an incentive of receiving 30 days off their sentence for 30 days in compliance. Missed check-ins are the No. 1 way in which people violate parole. The ACLU wants to provide other options for checking in, such as clocking in at work or attendance at a treatment program or school. Harmon said many people on probation struggle to find transportation, especially if they have lost their driver’s license, and sometimes have to choose between missing work or missing a mandatory appointment. “If my probation officer tells me I have to hop in for a (urine analysis) with 24 hours’ notice,” Harmon said, “but I’m scheduled to work that day, do I violate my probation by not showing up to take the UA, or do I violate my probation by not keeping my job?
They have to actually make those decisions.” The ACLU also proposes a simplification of probation requirements. The directive to avoid the company of any disreputable character, for instance, is vague and unfair, Harmon said. The judge could consider someone’s mother to fit the description, she said. The argument is that a probationer should understand what the requirements mean. The final recommendation is to stop sending people to prison for technical violations when the underlying crime wasn’t serious enough to send a person to prison in the first place. “I think the interesting thing you find on criminal justice reform is that it is often the most conservative people who are on board,” Harmon said. “I think the people who end up opposing this tend to think of themselves as moderates, and they still have this internal tough-on-crime narrative, and what they’re unwilling to recognize is that the tough-on-crime
approach to criminal justice has just resulted in tearing families apart and relying on a punitive imprisonment system that is financially unsustainable, and in many ways immoral. “We have to get past that narrative, that it’s an effective way to have a safe society. It hasn’t worked, and we’re just relying on sending people to jail for everything.” Sen. Kevin Braun, a Republican from Kansas City, Kan., said he is concerned with reducing the size of the $350 million budget for state prisons, especially in light of the decision to move up to 600 inmates to a private prison in Eloy, Ariz. “When I look at it from the numbers perspective, I say if we had the ability to do this and we could reduce our costs, then that is fantastic,” Braun said. “There is a math argument to be won there. And then I look at it from the human, Christian perspective, and I say, this is a good way to treat people.” Braun participated in December in a
roundtable discussion in Leavenworth with the governor, business leaders and former inmates who secured employment after working a job for a private company while in the corrections system. Business leaders frustrated by a shortage of skilled workers expressed interest in broadening programs that would allow them to invest in operations inside prison walls, such as welding shops. Kelly said her vision is for state prisons to become centers of rehabilitation and workforce training. “We’ll always have the punitive side,” Kelly said. “You’ve got to. But most of the people in prison will be coming back in our communities, so we’ve got to spend the time we’ve got with them to provide them with socio-emotional training and also skill training that they need so that when they come out, they can be gainfully employed and contributing members of the community and not end up back in the system.”
26 | PEOPLE, POLICY & POLITICS
Escalating protests cloud fight over Statehouse rules
The Rev. Sarah Oglesby-Dunegan, pastor at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka, led a group of protesters who halted Senate action in May by singing from the gallery above.
Tom Day, director of Legislative Administrative Services, looms over the Rev. Sarah Oglesby-Dunegan as she refuses to leave the Senate gallery during a demonstration in May. [SUBMITTED]
[EVERT NELSON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
By Sherman Smith The Topeka Capital-Journal
TOPEKA — As the Rev. Sarah Oglesby-Dunegan watched chaos unfold in the Senate chamber, where she brought proceedings to a halt in May by singing in the balcony and refusing to leave, she was thinking about the people who don’t have health insurance and need it desperately. Oglesby-Dunegan, pastor at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka, led eight other people in the brazen attempt to force a vote on Medicaid expansion on the final day of
the legislative session. “I was thinking about the members of my congregation and the people I’ve met around the state who struggle every day to make ends meet, who work low-wage jobs and can’t pay for health insurance, and how wrong that is,” Oglesby-Dunegan said. The rise of civil disobedience at the Statehouse over the past 18 months, fueled by the Poor People’s Campaign and supporters of Medicaid expansion, exposed a complex landscape where rules diverge from one floor to the next and sanctions are inconsistently applied by law enforcement.
Republican leaders in the Legislature, the Democratic governor’s administration and Capitol Police remain entangled in negotiations with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas over how to proceed. The protest in the Senate balcony revealed a widening fissure among stakeholders involved with safety and decorum in the Statehouse. The ACLU had filed a lawsuit weeks earlier after three Kansas State University students were detained by Capitol Police Officer Scott Whitsell and ordered to stay away from the Statehouse for a year. The ban was rescinded a day later.
The students, joined by OglesbyDunegan and Leavenworth County resident Thea Perry, had lowered massive banners declaring Republican leaders of the House and Senate had “blood on their hands” for not expanding access to Medicaid health insurance to 130,000 low-income Kansas adults and children. The House passed a Medicaid expansion bill, but Republican leaders on the Senate side refused to allow a vote on the legislation, even though a majority of senators would have voted in favor of the bill. Oglesby-Dunegan said the impasse
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Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, says signs can be dangerous and should not be allowed in the Statehouse. [MARCH
Lauren Bonds, legal director for the ACLU in Kansas, argued in a federal lawsuit that an administrative rule that restricts small, handheld signs isn’t constitutional. [JUNE 2019 FILE PHOTO/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
2019 FILE PHOTO/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
called for “extraordinary actions.” “It’s extraordinary for somebody to interrupt the Senate,” she said, “and I certainly would never do that if I didn’t feel like every level of the process was both nontransparent and non-accountable. We have leadership pulling tricks that prevent legislation from moving forward that clearly should move forward.” When Oglesby-Dunegan refused to leave the balcony during the end-ofsession demonstration, Capitol Police — a wing of the Kansas Highway Patrol — declined to force the issue. Whitsell later testified about the new approach. Police, who don’t have the authority to arrest someone who hasn’t committed a crime, no longer were willing to enforce administrative rules. For 20 minutes, Oglesby-Dunegan and her cohorts continued to sing and chant while lawmakers and the security team led by Tom Day, director of Legislative Administrative Services, struggled to find a resolution. The physically imposing Day hovered over the pastor while Senate President Susan Wagle’s staff ordered the removal of media under the threat
of losing floor passes to the Senate chambers. Police eventually forced the demonstrators to leave with the threat of arrest. Oglesby-Dunegan said she was issued a citation, although the district attorney hasn’t filed charges. It isn’t clear what will happen the next time a flagrant rule-breaker defies orders. “For us to proceed next session,” said House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, “we need to have assurance that the highway patrol will not be told to stand down based on politics.” Ryckman and Wagle, R-Wichita, expressed concerns with the ACLU lawsuit during a meeting in December of the Legislative Coordinating Council, the entity responsible for drafting administrative rules for the third, fourth and fifth floors of the Statehouse. The LCC includes the majority and minority leaders of both chambers, as well as the House speaker and Senate president. The rules set by the LCC were in conflict with a policy rolled out in October by Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration, which has domain over the
first and second floors. The new policy for the lower levels no longer restricts the use of signs or requires a legislator to sponsor an activity. Republican leaders prefer to retain their administrative rule banning anyone from carrying a sign into the Statehouse. “I think signs can be very dangerous,” Wagle said. “They can be thrown. They can be on poles. They can hurt people. A rod on a sign can be very heavy, and it can be used as a weapon. We’ve never had signs in the Capitol in the past, and I don’t believe we should have signs now simply because there are issues that we debate that people feel very strongly about, and there are people who want to oppress free speech, and there are people who when they get angry they lose their temper and they can hurt someone.” Oglesby-Dunegan said it was “ridiculous” to suggest a sign is a security threat in a building where the concealed carrying of firearms is allowed. Settlement talks in the lawsuit revolve around an agreement proposed by the ACLU to allow small handheld signs, a compromise on the need to
find a legislative sponsor for a demonstration, and a formal written policy by police for banning people from the Statehouse. “Some reaction obviously is appropriate if there’s a disruption of session,” said Lauren Bonds, legal director for ACLU of Kansas. “We’re not saying that it’s not appropriate for highway patrol or security or Tom Day to intervene.” Bonds said it appears that Day and his staff have the authority to physically remove someone who violates rules. Oglesby-Dunegan said the possibility of ongoing protests would be determined by whether lawmakers move forward with a Medicaid expansion plan, as they have promised to do. She said she has “other interesting things” she could be doing, such as writing sermons. “I would much prefer to be the kind of citizen who writes a letter to the editor occasionally, shows up to watch what’s happening, meets with my legislator, writes letters to them, has a more normal citizen advocacy relationship with government,” Oglesby-Dunegan said.
28 | PEOPLE, POLICY & POLITICS
Public helps set policy agenda for 2020
Gov. Laura Kelly [2019 FILE PHOTO/THE TOPEKA CAPITAL-JOURNAL]
By Gov. Laura Kelly Special to Gannett Kansas
As I travel throughout the state, I’m impressed by Kansans’ energy and optimism. Even as we tackle serious problems, there’s renewed spirit and dedication. I’ve also been heartened by feedback from people across the state — and equally encouraged by my administration’s work to repair programs and restore services Kansans want and need. After I took office, we set out to hear from Kansans at town halls, listening sessions, roundtable discussions and other public gatherings. We haven’t been disappointed. Kansans are smart and practical. They embrace fiscal responsibility. They want pragmatic, thoughtful solutions. And we are on that path. We funded schools, and our careful budgeting led to the state’s largest ending balance in a decade. We also will continue to reject reckless tax-policy proposals — and
instead align with Kansans who value strong schools, good roads and healthy communities. To start, Kansans have been loud and clear in calling for the responsible expansion of KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program. Retaining our federal tax dollars and providing affordable health care for some 150,000 uninsured Kansans is both morally and fiscally responsible. Preventive care wards off more serious and costly ailments, making expansion a prudent investment in healthier families and communities. Unfortunately, the state so far has turned away more than $3.7 billion in federal funds since January 2014 — dollars that would aid Kansas hospitals struggling with the cost of uncompensated care. The Governor’s Council on Medicaid Expansion has studied expansion models in other states so we can avoid repeating their mistakes. We need a straightforward plan, not one that’s overly complex and costly. We’re also listening and responding to Kansans who need tax relief.
Among recent recommendations from the bipartisan Governor’s Council on Tax Reform were a food sales-tax rebate to help Kansans who need it most, and a return to a tax-reduction fund that would give local governments more ability to lower property taxes. Labor shortages plague businesses and communities statewide, as well. Technical and trade schools, and other job training programs deliver a strong return on investment. Early education and K-12 public schools form the foundation for success, and also cannot be shortchanged. Another strategy to grow the labor pool rests in our prisons. The shift from strictly punitive strategies to more workforce training will help fill job openings — and also reduce recidivism. It’s one step needed to address overcrowded prisons. Corrections, as well as our foster-care system, were severely undermined. To repair both systems under great stress, we’re implementing proven programs and strategies designed to restore those vital services.
Road projects also took a hit in recent years. Kansans know good infrastructure enables economic growth and enhances safety in communities large and small. We’re ending the senseless diversion of funds away from highways by closing the so-called “Bank of KDOT.” Moving forward, we envision a more modern plan for our fast-changing transportation landscape. Kansans also have helped guide us by speaking out in public gatherings for our new economic development “Framework for Growth,” and our new Office of Rural Prosperity designed to aid in rural improvement efforts. We’ll keep listening, with more public events to come. Other opportunities to share input are available through our Virtual Budget Listening Session at Governor.kansas.gov, or by emailing us at GovEvents@ks.gov. Working together, we'll chart an even better course for Kansas in 2020 and beyond. Laura Kelly is the 48th governor of Kansas.
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Lawmakers must compromise to give Kansans better health care options Sen. Jim Denning Since the conclusion of last session, my staff and I have had one topic on our agenda: health care. Over the years I have consistently advocated for sound and sustainable health care policy and this upcoming session is no different. This last year, our office took a lot of heat regarding Medicaid. Far too often the media and political advocates have viewed health care as a one-sizefits-all model, shaming anyone with different ideas. The fight for covering
the most Kansans is usually told as one or the other — either Medicaid for all or only private market options. I believe those are not the only options. My office and I have worked tirelessly over the interim to create a compromise and a steady path forward that would allow Kansans from all different backgrounds and situations access to good-quality health care. The best policy regarding health care in Kansas is one that gives the most coverage and options to Kansans. During the 2019 session, the House and Senate passed legislation to expand association health care plans and small employer health insurance options. This gives healthy Kansans better opportunities to gain private insurance through their employer or on their own in a low-cost fashion.
Our agenda for the 2020 session is focused on continuing to provide further access and options for health care coverage. The Senate plan will be based on rewarding Medicaid recipients for healthy behavior and practices. In the plan, a Medicaid recipient would receive merits for keeping a primary care physician, having an annual health care screening, and focusing on preemptive care. The plan will also include a reinsurance program that would help lower ACA premiums by an estimated 20-30%. If an individual has the means and prefers the Affordable Care Act exchange to being enrolled in standard Medicaid, it is our job as lawmakers to allow them to make that decision on their own. The plan proposed and passed by the House last year, HB
2066, would force individuals into a standard Medicaid plan without a choice. The Senate plan is committed to reducing the cost of coverage on the ACA exchange rather than forcing Kansans to enroll in Medicaid. This session, my colleagues and I must work together, put partisan politics aside and compromise to give Kansans greater options and access to health care. It is clear that Kansas will expand Medicaid, but we still need to give individuals the ability to choose their own health care. It is not our job to force Kansans into one type of coverage over the other, but to provide them with solid and affordable options. Sen. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, is the Senate majority leader.
Supreme Court decisions necessitate constitutional amendments because reasonable regulations, such as parental consent requirements for minors, could be struck down. Kansans could lose the ability to require an abortion provider to have a license, follow health and safety guidelines and provide women information about Sen. Susan Wagle potential risks. It could remove our ban on lateterm and dismemberment abortions 2020 will be a busy year at the and taxpayer-funded abortions. The Statehouse where you’ll hear news about two constitutional amendments amendment will not ban abortion nor I will support. I’ll also work hard to prohibit exceptions for cases of rape, ensure middle-class Kansas taxpayers incest or life of the mother. The amenddirectly benefit from a strong Trump ment simply allows Kansas voters to decide how to regulate an industry as it economy; continue to monitor our mental health crisis and opioid and sui- does other health care services. cide epidemics; and ensure our roads The second constitutional amendment carry us into the next generation. also addresses a decision by activists The first constitutional amendment among the Kansas Supreme Court. The will protect laws already in place that court removed the legal caps on nonare now at risk because of a decision economic damages sought in lawsuits. by the Kansas Supreme Court last This means lawsuits can seek to recover April. Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt such things as psychological damage cleared a path for unlimited abortion. in addition to economic loss. We can’t The health and safety of countless allow Kansas to become a roost for women and their babies are at stake fee-seeking trial lawyers looking to sue
individuals, families and companies for all they are worth. Without action, everyone will pay the price in higher insurance rates to protect themselves against irresponsible litigation. I will also revisit a plan to implement the Trump tax cuts in Kansas. I want to give you, the taxpayer, the ability to itemize your mortgage interest, property taxes and health care costs. When President Donald Trump’s tax policy gave you a larger standard deduction and lowered income tax rates, many Kansans were no longer allowed to itemize deductions on their federal returns. Current Kansas law doesn’t allow you to itemize your state return if you don't itemize federal. I want to change that. The bill also decreased the sales tax you pay on food and eventually phases out entirely. Two versions of this bill passed the legislature last session, but Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed both. I expect this legislation to be addressed again, understanding that hard-earned money belongs to the people of Kansas.
In the last few years, the state has made great progress in addressing the mental health crisis facing our state. We’ve devoted millions more to local community health centers that partner with school districts where clinical intervention can improve outcomes for students. The Legislature will continue to address the growing opioid and suicide epidemics and focus on reforms in our overcrowded prison system. We need to help vulnerable and at-risk Kansans, not punish them. Finally, Kansas roads also need to remain healthy. Legislators will study a 10-year plan to improve existing infrastructure and expand in areas needed for growth. As your Senate president, I am committed to working hard on your behalf to ensure Kansas government remains fiscally conservative while providing critical and necessary services to Kansans in 2020 and beyond. Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, is president of the Kansas Senate.
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Band-Aid fixes won’t work for Kansas anymore Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr. When my kids were little, they’d come running when they fell off the swing set. We’d put a Band-Aid on their scraped knee and everything would be fixed. The state has tried that same approach for years — putting a BandAid on budget problems, hoping it would get better. Band-Aids might work for a scraped knee or two, but we know they don’t work for gaping fiscal problems like the ones our state has faced in recent years. Just as my kids have gotten too old for Band-Aids, the Band-Aid approach has gotten old for Kansans. Kansans have grown weary of budget
gimmicks that simply kick the can down the road; weary of courtroom battles that divert funding away from critical services like mental health and foster care; and weary of government intrusion that makes it harder for job creators and working Kansans to get ahead. When the Legislature returns in a few weeks, lawmakers must get beyond the Band-Aid fixes and bureaucratdriven approach. Instead, we must be disciplined enough to work together and form the long-term solutions our families deserve. That includes: • Ensuring fiscal responsibility so all parts of our state can flourish, not just a select few chosen by court litigation or political elites. Rushing to spend millions on new programs instead of funding proven economic drivers — such as a highway and infrastructure plan — will do more than just grow government. It will inevitably lead to calls for Kansans to send more of their hard-earned money to Topeka, reducing the financial strength of our
families and our communities. • Setting the tone for civil discourse so all Kansans have a voice, not just those who pad the pockets of politicians. We helped change the course of politics last year by banning anonymous bills and increasing transparency. This year, we’ve invited our colleagues to embrace civil discourse with training designed to break down barriers so the legislative process can be about solutions, not election-year slogans. • Growing jobs instead of growing government so our next generation can afford to call Kansas home. Making sure government stays out of the way and reducing barriers for the private sector will allow job creators and entrepreneurs to thrive. Doing the right thing creates a circle that encourages hard work, ingenuity and economic growth. That growth will bring more jobs and resources into our state without treating taxpayers like an ATM. Republicans want to build a state where jobs are stable, good-paying and
available in every community — from Mission to Meade. Others want to create a system where Kansans who fall behind can become dependent on the state for the rest of their lives. Without a path to self-sufficiency, these individuals can wind up trapped in a cycle of dependence, where their ability to feed their families depends on checking boxes for a bureaucrat, rather than their own determination. Our vision for the future is just the opposite. It’s a vision of a Kansas where everyone who wants a job can find one, and every Kansan who falls on hard times can get a hand up, not a handout. House Republicans look forward to working together this session to put an end to the Band-Aid fixes and make the future brighter for all Kansans. Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., R-Olathe, is speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives.
Abortion decision determines top priority of 2020 Legislature
Rep. Dan Hawkins This past April, six justices of the Kansas Supreme Court issued an opinion that determined the top priority for the 2020 legislative session. Six justices found a right to an abortion exists in the Kansas Constitution despite there being no language of the sort and nothing in the historical record indicating this to be the case. In addition, the court found that there is very little that can be done to regulate this newly created “right.” By doing so, the court opened the door to unrestricted late-term abortion
up to the point of birth. There is no higher priority for the Legislature than addressing this injustice. The sickening part of this ruling is that the majority of the court did not look at the rights of the child. They purposefully avoided discussing the loss of life that occurs when an abortion takes place, they openly chose not to engage in an in-depth discussion of the pain that is felt by an unborn child during an abortion, or to delve into the medical advances that can show us when an unborn child has a heartbeat and is capable of feeling pain. The court’s majority went out of its way to keep the discussion as clinical as possible in an effort to dehumanize the hundreds of thousands of children who are killed each year. The echoes of dehumanization still call to us from Auschwitz and Dachau, the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge
and the streets of Rwanda. In our nation, the infamous Dred Scott case comes to mind. It was in that 1857 United States Supreme Court case that the majority of the court held that a former slave could never be a U.S. citizen and that slaves were property. The entire opinion is a lesson in dehumanization. When you frame a dispute in a way in which you present only one side as human and the other side as something less than human, it provides cover to inflict unspeakable horrors. Abortion is a heated issue that inflames passion from all involved. Navigating this issue requires that all sides be on equal footing, and this does not occur when those children whose lives are literally at stake are declared to be something less than human. Dehumanization has destroyed nations, killed millions, and during the Civil War literally split our country
in half. We cannot be a state where six justices decide that some are more human than others. Addressing this injustice will be the top priority of the 2020 Legislature. There will be a constitutional amendment returning the power to regulate abortion to the elected representatives of the people. The selection process for Supreme Court justices will also be considered. Above all, we each have the responsibility to respect the human dignity of every living person. Regardless of political view, race, gender, sexuality, age, or whether born or unborn, we are living human beings deserving of respect. When we look at each other as something else, something less than human, we lose a piece of our own humanity in the process. Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, is the Kansas House majority leader.
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Responsible tax reform, Medicaid expansion critical for moving Kansas forward Sen. Anthony Hensley Changes made to income taxes in 2017 — which are still less than what taxpayers paid in 2012 — ended Gov. Sam Brownback’s failed tax experiment. These changes have increased revenues and the state budget has begun to stabilize. However, in the 2020 session there is much more to be done to reduce the tax burden on working and retired Kansans. The 6.5% sales tax on food remains the highest in the nation when combined with local sales taxes. Local property taxes have skyrocketed, making it more difficult for seniors on fixed incomes and working families to stay in their homes. Main Street retail
businesspeople are at a disadvantage collecting sales tax while online, outof-state retailers do not. Since Day 1, Gov. Laura Kelly has recognized the need for tax reform but has urged the Legislature to exercise restraint and give time to determine the full effects of tax changes made at both the state and federal levels. She also assembled the Governor’s Council on Tax Reform, a bipartisan group tasked with doing a thorough study of the state’s tax structure. I am a member of this council. We have met four times and will continue to meet next year before making our final recommendations. In the meantime, the council did make some initial recommendations. It proposed restoring the food sales tax refund credit, which was repealed to pay for Brownback’s tax experiment. This would give tax relief to more than 400,000 senior, disabled and lowincome Kansans. The council wants to re-establish the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund, which helps local
units of government reduce property taxes. It also recommended measures to help level the playing field for our Main Street retailers in competition with out-of-state retailers. Despite the council’s recommendations and the governor’s call for caution, we can expect some Republicans to push for irresponsible changes to the tax system just as Brownback did while he was governor. From 2012 to 2017, our tax system was way out of balance. Thirty-six percent of total taxes came from property and vehicles, 31.5% from sales and only 19% from income. We must work toward maintaining a more balanced system in the future. Another issue facing us in the 2020 session is Medicaid expansion. The Kansas Hospital Association estimates the state loses slightly more than $2 million per day of delay on Medicaid expansion, or a total loss of $3.7 billion since 2014. This is money paid by Kansas taxpayers that has gone to other states that have expanded
Medicaid. We cannot recoup these dollars if we do not implement a Kansas solution. I have pre-filed Senate Bill 246 to allow Kansas to finally expand Medicaid. Doing so will help hospitals and providers keep their doors open, especially in rural parts of the state. It also provides as many as 150,000 uninsured Kansans with access to health care, many of whom are already working but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid or too little to afford meaningful private insurance coverage. All of this can be accomplished without a tax increase. Kansas is moving forward along a road of recovery. We can keep making Kansas better by continuing to take strategic steps to reduce the tax burden on Kansans with a more balanced and fair tax structure and more access to affordable health care. Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, is the Senate minority leader.
Fiscal responsibility key to continuing Kansas restoration Rep. Tom Sawyer There are many issues to come in the 2020 legislative session. Some will be truly helpful to Kansans. Some will be distractions to sway voters in an election year. Among these, there is one issue that we must continue to move forward on — fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget. The failed 2012 Brownback tax experiment gutted the state for years — now we are trying to rebuild. Under Gov. Laura Kelly’s leadership, we’ve begun to dig ourselves out of a nearly $1 billion budget deficit accrued over the last eight years. This deficit — and the consequent budget cuts to
core state services in attempts to offset it — left every state agency and institution in pieces. Fiscal responsibility is more imperative now than ever as we slowly but surely begin to rebuild Kansas. More than $2 billion was taken from “the bank of KDOT” — the Kansas Department of Transportation — just to balance the budget. Gov. Kelly has a plan to restore full funding to KDOT within four years. Our K-12 schools went woefully underfunded for years. We’ve managed to satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court on adequacy and equity, but we must continue to protect that funding and ensure the Legislature fulfills its promise to fully fund schools and give students the opportunity for a quality education. Higher education funding was cut by $35 million in 2015. We’ve begun work to restore that, adding $20 million in higher ed funding last session. Kansas state employees went 10
years without a single pay raise. They’ve now had a 2.5% raise two years in a row. The Kansas state employee retirement system, KPERS, had seen skipped payments 15 times in eight years, leaving retired employees deprived of the very money they’d paid into for years. Under Gov. Kelly, KPERS funding has been fully restored and an additional $51 million has been paid into the KPERS fund. The budget cuts to DCF (the Department for Children and Families) is certainly the most heartbreaking result of the Brownback tax experiment and consequent deficit. Immensely underfunded, DCF has been fraught with problems ranging from children missing from the system to children sleeping in agency offices. In rare occurrences, even worse things have happened due to the agency’s lack of capacity to handle the number of cases reported. This last year, we were able to
add 36 more social workers to DCF and have begun repairs within the agency. We’ve made great strides in just one year under responsible leadership with a focus on fiscal responsibility. Gov. Kelly has presented a balanced budget that has allowed her administration and the Kansas Legislature to begin to dig ourselves out of the mess we were left with. The importance of fiscal responsibility cannot be understated, nor can the positive impact it has already made on our state. We cannot afford to stop digging out now. We can’t go backwards. We must learn from the mistakes of the past and be certain not to repeat them. Being responsible with our state budget is the very backbone of ensuring Kansas is a great place for families, schools, businesses, growth and prosperity. Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, is the Kansas House minority leader.
PEOPLE, POLICY & POLITICS
Dive into the issues that may dominate the 2020 Kansas Legislature.