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Taylor, Arnberger featured at legislative coffee
Wide range of topics covered by area legislators
Senator Mary Jo Taylor and Representative Tory Marie Arnberger addressed attendees of the Great Bend Legislative Coffee on Saturday morning, March 9 at the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce meeting room. - photo by Veronica Coons

Saturday morning, Senator Mary Jo Taylor, Dist. 33 and Rep. Tory Marie Arnberger, Dist 112 waited as Congressman Roger Marshall had a chance to address constituents concerns at the second of two legislative coffees planned for 2019 at the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce Spray-Holt room. Following his update about his visit with President Donald Trump last week where he had the opportunity to talk about his committee’s health care plan, the two state legislators were introduced. Both spoke about their committee efforts, followed by a joint question and answer session. 

Arnberger on hemp, CASA and drugs

Arnberger, serves on the Federal and State Affairs and Health and Human Services committees, and is vice-chair of the General Government Budget Committee. She is also deputy whip for the House majority and the Republican chair for the Future Caucus. 

Last week, she spent time discussing the future of sports wagering, pondered concerns over nicotine delivery devices, considered the per capita debt and how to rein it in, and attended a three-day Medicaid expansion round table, she said. 

She signed a bill providing $850,000 from the Kansas Endowment for Youth fund to the Court Appointed Special Advocate program. Arnberger serves as a CASA, and noted the program saves the state $3 million and children an average of 2.5 months in foster care. 

Arnberger has also sat in on hearings concerning the legalization of industrial hemp. Noting that the March 1 deadline for the bill had passed, the most pressing concern slowing progress is determining the timing and location for testing hemp’s THC content. 

The federal government requires that content to be no more than .03 percent. The problem, growers have found, is the plant tested in the field can register below this amount, but if it is exposed to heat during transport, the level of THC can increase to the point that it exceeds the federal limit. The KBI wants to test it at that point, she said, and that’s problematic to growers. Thus, its looking now like that date has been pushed back to July 1. 

“That’s too late,” Arnberger said. “We’ve now lost a whole year, and the states around us are going to hop on it.”

Arnberger also shared she has been in discussion with Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir who is helping her get up to speed on the current pervasive drug problem in Barton County. She hopes a forum can be organized soon to educate the public about the drugs law enforcement is seeing now, she said. 

Taylor on education, transportation 

Taylor serves on the K-12 Education, Agriculture and Health and Public Welfare committees. She also serves on oversight committees for Corrections and Juvenile Justice and Pension. Outside of politics, she serves on the Mental Health Committee at the Department of Education and on the state’s Accreditation Review Council. 

She commented on recent developments concerning the Gannon lawsuit. At the end of 2018, it appeared a deal had been reached for an adequate amount the courts and the plaintiffs had been agreed upon for school funding. It appeared that an extra $90 million a year would solve the cost of living adjustment problem. Governor Jeff Collier had agreed to sign the law if the money was there. 

“I left thinking we had a deal,” Taylor said. 

January came, and nothing happened. February the same. Then, this week, it was brought up in the Public Education select committee. Now, SB 142 has been penned, and Taylor supports it. 

“We need to come to agreement on this lawsuit, get it done, and get on to the host of other things we need to work on,” she said. 

While she does not serve on the Transportation Committee, it is top of mind for her and many other legislators since the KDOT fund has been the go-to fund for balancing the budget for the past several years. 

As a result, there is less and less available to repair and replace the state’s infrastructure, she said. A Transportation task force has been assembled, including legislators and several people from industry including Kip Spray of Great Bend. They’ve met to talk about transportation issues and infrastructure needs for highways, rail, trails, transit and aviation. At each meeting, lines of people have waited to share their stories about how unsafe roads have affected their communities and their lives.

Spray was there, and Taylor asked if he would speak about the task force. 

The money that has been taken from KDOT has been under reported, he said. 

“They say that $2 billion has been taken, but its actually $3 Billion,” he said. At a rate of about $500.5 million a year. The needs far outweigh the money we’ve been able to raise.” 

There may be a transportation bill coming through shortly,Taylor said.  

“You need to know this is an issue that isn’t going to be ignored, “Taylor said.  

Medicaid expansion discussed

There was some discussion concerning Medicaid expansion. Attendees wanted to know where each of the speakers stood on the topic, as well as how the state would pay for the expansion. Arnberger said she was unsure. Some states, she said, have funding mechanisms. Work and drug testing requirements are also on the table. How much and how to prove both need to be sorted out.

“In the current form, I’m not a fan of it,” she said. “If we were to make it so we could pay for it, and rural hospitals are going to get money and there is a work requirement, I’d be more inclined to vote for it.”

Taylor recalled that she had run for office on a platform that included Medicaid expansion. Her main concern remains the health of rural hospitals. Medicaid expansion could help ensure hospitals eat less of the expenses they have to write off when uninsured and under insured patients fail to pay. 

“Rural hospitals, critical access hospitals are not there to make a profit,” she said. “This isn’t to make them rich, its to keep them close to the middle line so services can be provided.” 

One attendee asked about what would happen if the state opted in, and then the federal government opted out of funding 90 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion that it now does. There was some disagreement between Taylor and Arnberger about whether the state could opt out of expansion at that point. Taylor said she’d been told repeatedly that the state could opt out, but Arnberger agreed with the attendee that the state could be “stuck” with the entire bill. She cited a roundtable discussion she’d attended earlier in the week.

Arnberger contacted the Tribune Monday morning to clarify. After discussing the matter further with committee leaders, she learned that the state could indeed opt out of Medicaid expansion in the future if funding dropped, but it would be an all or nothing proposition. If that were to play out, only those who would qualify for Medicaid through the federal government would continue to be covered. All who were covered due to expansion would lose their coverage and would need to find coverage elsewhere, she said. 

Tax bills and the Farm Bureau health plan bill were also of interest. Time, however, brought the coffee to a close. 

Editor's note:  The story has been edited from the original publication.  Sen. Taylor was quoted saying an extra $90,000 would be adequate for a cost of living adjustment.  The Tribune was contacted by Scott Rothschild, communications editor with KASB, who corrected us.  The actual amount of the COLA was $90 million.