Capitol Update: Hearings on Medicaid expansion set for March 18 and 19

To keep our readers better informed about the state government actions that impact our communities, we feature an update columns each Monday from one of northeast Johnson County’s elected officials: Rep. Barbara Bollier, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Jarrod Ousley, Rep. Melissa Rooker and Sen. Kay Wolf. Rep. Bollier submits this week’s update:

Barbara Bollier
Barbara Bollier

The legislature has passed the mid-point for bills, a time commonly known as “turn around”. Bills that have passed the House now move to the Senate, and vice-versa. There was significantly less activity this year for bills being heard on the House floor. However, probably the most significant occurrence was regarding Medicaid Expansion. Earlier this session the Vision 2020 committee wrote a Kansas solution for expanding Medicaid. When that bill was moved to the House Health and Human Services Committee I asked the chairman daily if we could hear Medicaid Expansion bills in committee. Every day I was met with the same answer: NO. Ten days ago a bill I was carrying regarding funding donor breast milk for Medicaid infants had an amendment presented to expand Medicaid. Rather than debate the amendment on the floor, Speaker Merrick relented and agreed to have the Appropriations Committee hold hearings on Medicaid Expansion in exchange for withdrawing the amendment. Hearings will be held March 18 and 19 on this very critical topic.

A second significant bill passed the House. Eighteen months ago the legislature directed the teachers’ union, school boards, and superintendents to work together to find compromise language for a bill to improve negotiations for teacher contracts. They were successful in their endeavor, BUT rather than using that compromise, the House Education committee passed a bill setting their own negotiating standards. This bill would have significantly weakened the bargaining power of teachers unions. When the bill reached the House floor for debate, an amendment was passed to replace the committee bill with the compromise language created originally. That amended language passed overwhelmingly in the House. I voted yes for the amendment and on final action.

On the Senate side, a compromise bill was passed moving the current ballot for spring elections to November of odd-numbered years and leaving them non-partisan. That bill now comes to the House side for the Elections Committee to hear. All local government entities plus the Kansas Association of School Boards support continuing elections in the spring and keeping them non-partisan. The only people in favor of this change are legislators and the Kansas Policy Institute. I do not support changes other than considering mail-in ballots to increase voter turnout.

This past Thursday HB 2403 was introduced by the Appropriations Committee to abolish the current school funding formula and establish K-12 Block Grants. Key to the grants are allowing most money to be used as the school desires, rather than keeping it in “silos” as is currently required by our law. Although the grants call for over $300 million more than was budgeted by the Governor through 2017, over half of the money goes to funding KPERS, the retirement fund. I have supported making changes to our funding formula, but I do not support abandoning it entirely. The bill is lengthy and I have begun studying it over the weekend, including having conversation with the president of our school board and listening to comments by our Superintendent. Stay tuned as this most significant piece of legislation is considered.

It is a pleasure to serve and I welcome comments always. Write me at barbara.bollier@house.ks.gov, follow me at Representative Barbara Bollier on Facebook, or check out my website, barbarabollier.org.