Capitol Update: Rep. Parker says Medicaid expansion, K-12 funding and Gov. Kelly’s budget are issues to watch

Rep. Brett Parker

Each legislative session, we provide the Shawnee Mission area’s elected officials with the chance to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Cindy Neighbor, Rep. Brett Parker and Sen. Dinah Sykes are scheduled to send updates this week. Here’s Rep. Parker’s filing:

It can be difficult to track the hundreds of bills proposed in the Kansas legislature. It is even more difficult to track which ones have a chance to be heard, voted out of committee, or even become law. While I would like to see every citizen pay close attention to what is happening in Topeka, busy lives and a legislative process that lacks transparency make that difficult. So for those seeking the 40,000 foot view of things, I’d pay attention to three key pieces of legislation: Medicaid expansion, K-12 school funding, and the Laura Kelly budget.

Far right lawmakers like to pretend that expanding Medicaid is a proposal shrouded in mystery. That could not be further from the truth. If Kansas expands Medicaid eligibility, it would become the 37th state (plus D.C.) to do so. The experience of the other states give us years of data to learn from. So if expanding Medicaid is not a mystery, what do we know about it? To begin, we know that Kansas has forfeited over $3 billion by delaying expansion this long — $3 billion dollars that would have supported our hospitals and helped pay nurses, doctors, and other healthcare staff. We also know that not expanding has left 150,000 of our friends, family members, and neighbors without access to affordable healthcare. Tragically, these 150,000 Kansas fall into a coverage gap because of their income. If they made less, they’d qualify for traditional Medicaid. If they made more, they’d receive subsidies under the Affordable Care Act to help pay for their insurance. They are stuck because legislative leaders and our former governors have refused to support this critical, common sense legislation that has already been enacted by both red and blue states. Recent states that have supported expansion include Utah, Idaho, and Nebraska. Even Vice President Pence signed expansion into law while governor of Indiana. With a pragmatic governor and a supportive coalition of legislators, this is the year to expand Medicaid.

Our schools have not been constitutionally funded since the 2008-09 school year. This failure is an embarrassment to our state and an abdication of our responsibility to do right by our children. This must be the year that we pass a constitutionally adequate school funding plan. Our students and their teachers cannot wait any longer. Gov. Kelly has proposed a four year, $350+ million plan to meet the court ruling and finally end the school funding lawsuit. The need and the remedy could not be more clear. All that remains is for the legislature to do its duty and pass the plan.

It is no secret that the Brownback years were devastating to Kansas. Agencies were starved of resources, crises mounted in every department, and responsible budgeting went out the window. The 2017-2018 legislature began to turn the ship around with the passage of a partial repeal of the failed Brownback tax experiment and sensible budget. Much work remains to be done though.

Thankfully, our state just elected Laura Kelly. As stated by her Budget Director, Larry Campbell, “this governor understands budgets.” Gov. Kelly has proposed a budget that builds on the past two years of progress. Her budget allows for investment in public safety, higher education, and our struggling foster care system while responsibly preparing the state to weather uncertain economic times ahead. It provides the largest ending balance in two decades. When great budget minds like Republican Larry Campbell and Democrat Laura Kelly speak with one voice on the direction forward, our state would be wise to listen. Though there will inevitably be a few tweaks by the legislature, the closer we come to enacting the budget as proposed, the better our state will be.

If these three key ideas are adopted in the 2019 session, it will be a great year for our state and another crucial step forward in repairing the damage done by Gov. Brownback. If you have questions about the session or wish to follow more closely, please email me or follow me on social media. It is a privilege to serve all of you and our great state.