NEJC legislators talk about state budget, Medicaid expansion, school finance, leadership issues in 2016 preview

NEJC legislators gave their preview of the 2016 session Friday morning.
NEJC legislators, including Sen. Pat Pettey, Rep. Melissa Rooker, Rp. Stephanie Clayton, Sen. Kay Wolf and Rep. Jarrod Ousley, gave their preview of the 2016 session Friday morning.

The Kansas Legislature reconvenes for the 2016 session just one month from today. Predictions for what will transpire run from Sen. Kay Wolf’s expectation that it might be relatively calm for the Senate in an election year to Rep. Melissa Rooker’s categorization of the House as “the wild west.”

“I have reason to be alarmed,” Rooker said of the possibilities for 2016. In the Senate, Wolf said, leadership won’t want anything too controversial in a year when all House and Senate seats will be up for election in November. That could change, she said if an order comes down from the court in the Gannon school finance case. The northeast Johnson County delegation members gave their predictions Friday morning at the annual Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce preview breakfast.

School finance, Medicaid expansion, budget shortfalls, legislative leadership, gun legislation and religious freedom bills were a few of the topics touched on by Wolf, Rooker, Sen. Pat Pettey, Rep. Jarrod Ousley and Rep. Stephanie Clayton. Rep. Barbara Bollier was unable to attend.

“Kansas is really in sad shape,” Sen Wolf told the group. “Last session was the worst I’ve ever had up there. Common sense is out the door. People are voting the way they are told to vote.”

Budget shortfalls – “It’s 2017 that I don’t know where we’re going to get the money from,” Wolf said. Many want to change the tax exemption for LLCs, she said. “Is the fairy going to come and bring the money,” Pettey asked.The funds sweep has directly hurt early childhood education programs, she said.

School finance – “I think it is a misnomer to say that the block grant has been good for us,” Rooker said. “Growth now is a problem in our school district .” The block grant does not allow new money for additional students, she said. “There’s a lot of redevelopment happening.” Rooker said those who contend the schools are getting more money “are omitting some facts that make it seem like a windfall, but in reality it’s no more money.” She pointed to additional KPERS funds and a change in accounting that make the totals counted as state aid higher. “It’s not more money that the school can actually use,” she said.

Medicaid expansion – Clayton called the expansion a conservative and pro-business concept. “”How could you support a policy that would encourage an able-bodied individual to go on welfare,” she said, highlighting choices some low-income workers face. “I know this Chamber supports KanCare expansion,” Ousley said. “I would like to see more discussion on that.” Pettey also said she wants to see Medicaid expansion, but Wolf predicted it will not happen in 2016. Rooker said the recent committee re-assignments were a “clear shot” not to try expansion on the House side.

Religious freedom – “I fear a resurgence of the so-called Religious Freedom Bill,” Clayton said. The past proposal would have allowed the “public and private sector to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples,” she said. “This kind of discrimination is not tolerated by our businesses.”

Gun laws – “I don’t know I would want a fellow student to have a lethal weapon,” Pettey said of her college years living in a dorm.

Leadership – Clayton recalled being pulled from all of her committees and not getting her requested assignments. “The speaker shows us who he is by who he places in leadership,” she said.