Northeast Johnson County lawmakers Sen. Barbara Bollier and Rep. Melissa Rooker told constituents packed into a meeting room at Village Presbyterian Church on Saturday that the legislative session starting today offers opportunities to continue stabilizing state services and agencies that began last year when a group of moderates took office — but that such momentum could be easily derailed if those officials aren’t reelected this fall.
Acknowledging that moderate Republican officials who voted in favor of the 2017 bill that reversed much of the 2012 tax cuts signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback are likely to face aggressive challenges from conservatives this year, Bollier and Rooker said defense of those moderates this summer and fall should be a priority for people who support their agenda.
“My district, I would say, is supportive — the majority — in saying we need to pay more taxes so we can do the right thing like fund our children. But not everyone felt that way,” Bollier said. “We need to make sure that we maintain in the House that group of people, if not add to it, that support those kinds of things. If we lose that it doesn’t matter who the governor is…Keeping people in office who want to see our state solid and successful and willing to take those hard votes is absolutely critical.”
Rooker noted that she was among the group of legislators who had been targeted by Americans for Prosperity with negative mailers about the tax vote.
“We will need protecting next summer in the election cycle,” she said.
Among the policy issues the two discussed at length during the town hall, which was attended by nearly 150 people, were:
- Bollier indicated that she believed efforts to expand Medicaid in the state would be reupped, but said the idea still has strong opposition in pockets.
- She said that she continues to have problems understanding the arguments against expanding Medicaid in the state. Because taxpayers are still on the hook for medical services for people who can’t pay when they show up at the emergency room – usually the most expensive and least effective domain for treatment — the state should be considering how it can’t most efficiently serve that population.
- She also said the state had a moral imperative to provide access to healthcare for Kansas citizens. “Making choices, whether to use your diabetes testing strip or having food for your family, that’s isn’t a real place that we need to be as a society in my opinion,” she said.
Education funding and policy
- Rooker, who sits on the House education committee, said Kansas needs to take a holistic view of its K-12 system. She noted that more and more students in the state are facing stresses and traumas outside the classroom that the schools are being expected to address because other state agencies no longer have the funding to provide services. “We have systemic problems,” she said. “And we need to stabilize a lot different state agencies in order to appropriately provide the resources our children need to be successful learners. A hungry child can’t learn. A homeless child certainly can’t learn.”
- Because budget cuts have “frayed the fabric of that safety net of services that wrap around our children,” schools are having to invest more and more of their money in support services for students instead of more traditional classroom expenses. She said she gets frustrated by people who argue that schools have plenty of money, they just aren’t allocating them properly.
- She said that lawmakers should focus more on creating a system that allows each student to reach his or her full potential rather than on one that stresses testing benchmarks. Some students have learning disabilities or have experienced childhood traumas that lead to their academic potential being different than students who have had more advantaged early lives. Rooker said the state’s K-12 system should be looking to create a “growth model” that helps every student improve their capabilities, whatever their potential may be.
Adding funding to mental health programs, the Department for Children and Families
- Bollier noted that Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer is expected today to announce a plan to increase funding for the embattled Department for Children and Families. She said that while she welcomed the focus on the problems in the department, she found it ironic that Colyer was suddenly so keen on spending more money. “While I commend him for it, we had asked him for years, ‘Please, get this taken care of.’ It wasn’t,” Bollier said. “My question to the Lt. Governor is and will be, where are we getting the money? You who were so mad and so anti raising our taxes somewhat this last year, and now they’re spending the money.”
- Bollier said the state has been underfunding its mental health services, and consequently the number of people with mental health problems put in jails and prisons in Kansas has skyrocketed. She said she hoped the administration would look to shift some of the money it uses on prisons toward mental health treatment programs.
Full video of the town hall is embedded below:
Bollier and Rooker town hall at Village Pres.
Posted by Shawnee Mission Post on Saturday, January 6, 2018