Hello again! As I head back to Topeka next week, I thought I would give you an overview of some of the major events of the last few months, what I’ve been up to, and what to expect in the coming months. If you find yourself in Topeka, please call or email so we can plan to meet up. My office is 441-East, but between committees and meetings, I’m rarely there. If I know you’re coming, it’s a lot easier to make sure I see you.
On the Home Front
If you have “liked” my Taylor for Senate Facebook Page, you know I have been busy at various events, celebrations, and parades since the legislature adjourned in May.
Todd and I also became grandparents again (Isaac is #15)! His twin brothers, AJ and Leo are big helpers.
October began with an Early Childhood Learning Symposium in Wichita. It was organized by the ECL Caucus, of which I am a member. It consists of bi-partisan group of legislators in the House and Senate. We worked in concert with the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) to obtain outstanding speakers. The purpose of the symposium was to educate legislators who do not have a formal education background on the importance and effectiveness of early childhood learning. Attendance exceeded our expectations, and well worth the effort.
I serve on the Joint Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice Oversight. We met for three days in mid-October. As one might assume, the task of overseeing these activities is large since the committee hears updates on the effectiveness of legislation concerning the Department of Corrections and juvenile justice issues. We also hear testimony on mental health legislation, as mental health often plays a role in the above-mentioned topics.
Lastly, my oversight committee duties ended in November with the Insurance and Pension Committee oversight meeting in early November. The main takeaway from that day is that our Kansas Public Employees Retirement system is doing well, and confidence in the fund is higher than recent years.
Constituents may be interested to know that I attend meetings to learn in-depth about issues that affect the district:
I attended two meetings held by the State Department of Transportation to create the vision for the future of transportation in Kansas.
Another very interesting three days were spent attending the Kansas State Water Conference in Wichita. Our state faces a variety of challenges involved in managing and delivering safe water for multiple purposes. Of particular concern in District 33 is the Quivira Impairment. Since the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge is under the direction of the federal government, there are conversations with the Department of Interior as to how to handle the water impairment, especially with regard to irrigation practices on acreage adjacent to the Rattlesnake Creek.
Throughout the legislative session, I will be conducting informal polls on the hot topics of the session via this email list. Please share with your neighbors who live in the district so they may participate. The more people who respond means the results are more representative of the whole.
BIG NEWS! Governor Laura Kelly (D-Topeka) and Senator Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) have been on opposite sides of this issue for years. However, both recognized the need for expansion and started working toward a solution last May. I was appointed to the Special Committee on Health to assist with this effort during the interim.
This week, Governor Kelly and Senator Denning announced their compromise legislation to make Kansas the 37th state to expand access to Medicaid to the 150,000 Kansans making less than $35,000 for a family of four. The bill will be ready for consideration in the Senate first, where it has 22 cosponsors (21 votes are required to pass a bill in the Senate). I have not seen the bill text, but Kelly and Denning comments at the press conference indicated the following as key provisions of the plan:
Monthly Premium: $25/per person, maximum $100/month for a family.
Work Referral Program: Pairs enrollees with existing services for workforce training, resume and interview skills training, and job connections.
Reinsurance Program: The Kansas Insurance Department would have authority to reduce certain health care costs to Kansans enrolled in the program.
Mental Health: Medicaid to cover mental health services at mental health facilities with more than 16 beds.
Inmate Health: Medicaid to cover medical procedures for inmates requiring an overnight stay.
Deadbeat Drop: Should the federal government renege on its commitment to pay 90% of the costs of expansion, the state ends the program.
We have a long way to go before this becomes a reality, but I am grateful for the bipartisan effort to create a complete plan that could work for Kansas.
What to Watch for in 2020
Professional estimators expect the state to end this fiscal year with $900 million more in the bank than what was budgeted. This does not mean we have a bunch of extra money. What it means is we can continue to restore the basic functions of government like reforming our decimated foster care system, reduce waiting lists for elderly and disabled care, and recruit additional staff to improve the speed of tax returns. I don’t expect additional taxes, but likely a further reduction in the sales tax on food is likely to come up.
While the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the current formula provides funding which satisfies the requirements of the Kansas Constitution, we must continue to fund that formula to keep on the right side of the constitution. To continue that funding, two key provisions must be renewed. At-risk and high-enrollment weighting are holdover policies from the previous formula and incorporated into this one, and are scheduled to expire on July 1, 2020. At-risk weighting provides extra funding for students requiring more services. High-enrollment weighting is just that – additional funding due to the increased expense of larger facilities and programming.
As in every election year, social issues are a frequent focus. If committee chairs don’t hold hearings on the most controversial bills, or don’t pass them out of committee, they will likely come to the floor as amendments for “gotcha” votes.
Constitutional Amendment: It is widely expected the legislature will pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting specific kinds of abortions in response to recent legislation in New York. The real question here is when the amendment will appear on the ballot – in the August primary election where there is low turnout, or on the November general election, when more Kansans will exercise their voice.
Every department will be looking at how to get a piece of the “surplus” in estimated revenues. However, even with raises the past two years, Kansas judicial employees are still in the lowest 5% in the nation in employee pay. This causes workload issues as well as “speedy trial” concerns. Six judges have filed a lawsuit against the state demanding more pay for judicial employees.
Higher Education Funding
Bearing the brunt of the budget cuts in the last decade, state universities have transitioned the bulk of funding over to tuition increases. With additional funding the last two years, the institutions are closer to the budgets they had in 2012, but still fall eight years behind while other states are competitively recruiting Kansas students.
It is an honor and privilege to serve you in Topeka.
Sen. Mary Jo Taylor serves West Central Kansas including Barton, Edwards, Kiowa, Lane, Ness, Pawnee, Pratt, Rush, Scott, Stafford. and parts of Hodgeman and Rice Counties.