Friday, January 10, 2020

Welcome to the KDP Weekly Rundown – the Kansas Democratic Party’s update of the biggest things going on in the state party and the state government. What are we focused on this week? The announcement of a bipartisan Medicaid expansion deal, the creation of a new department, and medical marijuana legalization hopes for opioid crisis!


  • What’s happening?

Standing with Republican Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning in a joint press conference Thursday, Gov. Laura Kelly announced a bipartisan compromise to expand Medicaid in Kansas. The plan would expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act to up to around 150,000 Kansans by January 1, 2021.

If enacted, the legislation would also include a work referral program requiring newly eligible Medicaid applicants to answer questions about their employment status, education level, and other factors to direct unemployed Kansans toward the state’s KansasWorks career development program. The proposal additionally allows the state to create a re-insurance program designed to further lower health insurance prices in the private marketplace.

Gov. Kelly: “Sen. Denning and I are proud to stand together to propose a bipartisan compromise that will expand Medicaid and lower healthcare costs for Kansas families. This proposal includes elements of my plan, of Sen. Denning’s plan, of the 2019 House plan, and of the bipartisan plan that passed both chambers in 2017.”

The development creates what appears to be the clearest opportunity for Kansas to join the 37 states and Washington, D.C. that have extended Medicaid coverage to Americans with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

The bill is said to have 22 co-sponsors in the Senate, more than the majority of members needed to pass. Sen. Denning previously worked with fellow Republican leaders to block majorities of both legislative chambers from voting in favor of Medicaid expansion. GOP Senate President Susan Wagle, who is running for U.S. Senate, said in a statement following the conference that “socialized government run healthcare is not the answer.”


  • What’s happening?

Spirit AeroSystems announced Friday that the Wichita-based employer will lay off 2,800 workers starting January 22. The development comes as production for the Boeing 737 Max remains on hold and internal messages delivered Thursday to congressional investigators revealed employees mocking federal rules and questioning the safety of the 737 Max.

Rep. Sharice Davids, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, responded in a series of tweets on Friday to the back-to-back events.

Rep. Davids: “These messages are incredibly disturbing and show a coordinated effort inside Boeing to deceive the public and federal regulators, who are in place to keep passengers safe. It’s more proof that Boeing put profit over safety in developing the 737 MAX. In addition to the public safety concerns these messages raise, Boeing’s callousness has now cost thousands of Kansans their livelihood and endangered the economy of our state, which is dependent on aerospace.”

Spirit President and CEO Tom Gentile, who reportedly gave Gov. Kelly an optimistic outlook on the matter in a mid-December phone call, said in a letter to employees that Spirit “will continue to work with Boeing to develop a new production schedule for 2020 with an eye toward minimizing disruption, maintaining the stability of our production capabilities, and best positioning Spirit for the future.”


  • What’s happening?

Gov. Laura Kelly on Wednesday announced plans to create a sweeping new state agency to administer foster care, mental health hospitals, and juvenile justice. Barring a vote by the Kansas Legislature objecting to the move, the proposed Kansas Department of Human Services will be established 60 days after lawmakers are formally notified on January 13, the start of the 2019 session.

Kelly said the new, larger agency will help to more efficiently provide welfare services.

Gov. Kelly: “The creation of the new agency allows us to focus on prevention, so that we can get to these families before their situation becomes a crisis. The Department of Human Services will partner with communities across the state to create a single point of entry for those who need access to services for things like child welfare, mental health, economic support and juvenile justice.”

Republican leaders in the legislature offered no substantive criticism, complaining that they were left out of the planning process.

Laura Howard, currently the secretary of the Department for Children and Families and the Department for Aging and Disability Services, will head the new agency.


  • What’s happening?

Gov. Kelly hopes Medicaid will be expanded and medical marijuana will be legalized in the upcoming session of the Kansas Legislature, both of which Kelly said in a January 2 interview could stem opioid abuse in the state.

“This is the year we’re gonna get it done,” Kelly told WIBW about expanding Medicaid. “The one good thing about not having expanded it before is that we can expand it now learning from other states and get it right the first time.”

If the public wants recreational marijuana legalized and lawmakers pass a bill doing so, Kelly said she “probably” would sign it, but stressed her advocacy focus is on allowing the drug for medical purposes.

Gov. Kelly: “I’ve said [I support legalizing medical marijuana] for a long time…I have always said that I want it well regulated so that it’s controlled…I think it would do a lot for our families who have these kids with Dravet syndrome, which is severe, frequent epileptic seizures.”


  • What’s happening?

Improvement plans to alleviate Osawatomie State Hospital’s overburdened acute care unit are being drafted, Kelly pledged in comments on January 3. Kelly said the Adair Acute Care unit is “not a therapeutic environment” and “way too small to have 60 people with some serious mental health issues in that one place.”

The Osawatomie hospital lost millions of dollars in federal funds in January 2016 after the facility was decertified by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for security and safety issues. Although the federal agency’s re-certification of the hospital’s acute care unit in December 2017 reopened Medicare funding for the 60-bed unit, federal inspectors in 2019 threatened to once again cut off funding if treatment is not improved by March. The facility in December submitted an improvement plan focusing on more individualized patient treatment.

Kelly emphasized that prioritizing crisis centers, which lawmakers in 2019 appropriated $2.6 million for, makes more sense than increasing capacity at the state’s mental health hospitals. Further detailed information on the situation is expected in Kelly’s proposed budget, which will be released in late January.


  • What’s happening?

Gov. Kelly on Monday released her administration’s proposal to spread out annual payments to Kansas’ public pension system over an additional 10 years, seeking to avoid the unsustainable scheduled payments heightened by multiple bypasses during the Brownback administration.

The plan, which Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) director Alan Conroy projects would cost the state an additional $4.4 billion over 25 years but save $223 million during the first 15, is similar to a proposal the Kansas Legislature rejected largely along party lines in 2019. The administration noted in the plan’s announcement that the idea of pushing KPERS payments out over an extended timetable – re-amortization – has been proposed by Republican lawmakers in the past.

Gov. Kelly: “We must act decisively to meaningfully reduce state debt, rebuild the state savings account, and protect Kansas’ ability to pay its bills in the long term…KPERS re-amortization is a fiscally prudent way to ensure long-term stability of KPERS and the state budget.”

The administration said the strategy would pay off more than $500 million in debt early and help the state avoid future principal and interest costs. The chair of the KPERS board, who previously chaired the Kansas Republican Party, said he did not expect the board to adjust its unfavorable opinion of the general proposal introduced last year.

Additional details are expected in Kelly’s proposed budget due out next week. In 2019, lawmakers opted to instead adopt a 20-year payment plan. More than 311,000 pensions for state and local public workers and retirees are covered by KPERS.