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  • Writer's pictureJeff Pittman

2020 Kansas Legislative Survey

As I have done in sessions past, I have developed a Legislative Survey so that constituents may provide their insights and opinions so that our government is truly representative. Please take a few moments to take the survey here. If you have any questions, I have provided more information below to help you form an opinion on these subjects that we are likely to see in the 2020 Kansas Legislative Session.

Medicaid Expansion

Kansas Legislative leadership has continued to work against the people of Kansas and block a simple up or down vote on Medicaid expansion in Kansas. While a bipartisan coalition, including myself, passed Medicaid expansion in the Kansas House in 2019, the Senate President Susan Wagle refused an open debate despite overwhelming support.

Kansas has given up billions of our very own tax dollars over the past five years because of stubborn resistance.

With a 90% match already committed from the existing federal Medicaid program, Kansas only needs to ante 10% of costs. This is an investment in our local hospitals that can be paid for their services, and it could help more than 150,000 Kansans who make too much to qualify for Medicaid and make too little to afford the premiums and cost of care provided on the private market or under the exchange.

According to the Kansas City Star, 627 people in Kansas will die over the next year because Republican leadership refused to expand Medicaid. This would have helped Leavenworth-Lansing’s Guidance Center and help our local hospitals retain service offerings to our community.

Direct Ballot Initiative

An initiative is a proposal of a new law or constitutional amendment that is placed on the ballot by petition, that is, by collecting signatures of a certain number of citizens. Twenty-four states have some form of the initiative process.

Of the 24 states to have adopted some form of the initiative process, 18 states allow initiatives to propose constitutional amendments and 21 states allow initiatives to propose statutes. In most cases, once a sufficient number of signatures has been collected, the proposal is placed on the ballot for a vote of the people. This is direct ballot initiative.

In recent years, we have seen how only a handful of legislators out of a total of 165 legislators can hold up even a hearing for legislation, let alone a simple up or down vote, despite a majority of legislators in favor. Direct ballot initiative would provide an opportunity for citizens to collect a certain number of signatures to place such legislation on the ballot for the voters to approve or disapprove.

States typically require the signatures of at least 5 or 10 percent of the voters in the last general election contest. For demonstrative purposes, if Kansas had direct ballot initiative requiring signatures of at least 10% of the voters in the last general election for Governor (1,054,622 total vote), citizens could place a matter on the ballot by obtaining 105,642 signatures.

Comprehensive Transportation Plan

Since 1990, Kansas has adopted three (3) long-range, 10-year transportation plans. The most recent plan, T-WORKS, was passed in 2010 and will expire in May 2020, requiring the legislature and governor to craft a new 10-year transportation plan for our state. In the 2019 Legislative session, we set up the framework for the next 10-year comprehensive transportation plan that will address everything from addressing congestion and improving safety in identified dangerous road sections to improving regional airports and rail lines for passenger travel.

During the last T-WORKS program, then-Governor Brownback raided the State Highway Fund (SHF) to backfill the holes created in the State General Fund (SGF) by the failed Brownback Tax Experiment. There is discussion in legislative committee to fund our next transportation plan with the use of gas taxes, because then such revenues could not be raided by the Governor to fund things other than transportation.

Expanding Mental Health Treatment Options

Expanding Medicaid is only the first step to improving mental health treatment options across Kansas. Kansas also lacks enough behavioral health providers to treat individuals having a mental health crisis. Sadly, far too often our police and corrections workers are the first line providers for individuals having a mental health crisis.

In the 2019 Legislative session, we expanded a mental health initiative that embeds behavioral health professionals into schools who are managed by mental health professionals like those from the Guidance Center. Leavenworth's district was selected as a pilot site. Preliminary data says this program has been effective, but we will have to wait to evaluate more complete datasets from the pilot program during the 2020 Legislative session. It is my hope that the data will support an expansion of this program for children. During the Brownback terms in office, Osawatomie State Hospital (OSH), one of the state's two behavioral health hospitals, experienced severe neglect, even falling out of compliance with the Centers for Medicare / Medicaid Services (CMS), which caused the state to carry the entire burden for treatment without reimbursements from CMS. Today, only a portion of the total number of beds previously available are in service, leaving OHS with fewer than 100 beds to treat the most severely mentally ill patients from around Kansas. It is my hope that we can expand the number of beds at OSH to continue to expand treatment options.

In 2018 and 2019, the Kansas Legislature commissioned a statewide Mental Health Task Force to make recommendations to the Legislature about addressing a growing behavioral health crisis across the state. One of those recommendations was for the Legislature to establish regional Crisis Behavioral Health Stabilization Centers across Kansas so that the state could stabilize patients outside of the the criminal justice and state hospital systems. In the 2020 Legislative session, we will be working towards establishing these regional stabilization centers.

Legalizing Medical Cannabis for Legitimate Treatment of Bona Fide Diagnosis

Each of the states bordering Kansas, including Oklahoma and, most recently, Nebraska, have authorized some form of legalized cannabis and / or THC for the legitimate treatment of bona fide medical diagnosis. I have heard from scores of constituents who have respectfully requested the state expand Medical Cannabis as an option for care. Veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress disorders, and other ailments; parents with children suffering from severe seizure disorders; and terminal patients who would prefer to use medical cannabis with fewer side effects.

During the 2019 Legislative session, I supported bipartisan legislation named Claire & Lola's Law (Senate Bill 28 summary), which created an affirmative defense for parents who may have been caught with small amounts of CBD oils containing less than 5% THC, the active psychoactive compound in cannabis, if used for treatment of their childrens' medical diagnosis.

During the 2018 Legislative session, I supported bipartisan legislation that made legal CBD oils that did not contain THC (Senate Bill 282 Summary). While I believed it did not go far enough, I also believed that it was important progress towards acknowledging the medical benefits of compounds derived from hemp, cannabis' non-psychoactive cousin.

I am optimistic that Medical Cannabis will receive legislative attention in the 2020 session, because the interim Special Committee on Federal and State Affairs has approved a plan that would authorize some forms of Medical Cannabis, but would still prohibit smoking. While not perfect, this is nonetheless a positive sign that we're moving Kansas into alignment with our neighboring states.

Enhancing Veterans' Services

There have been efforts by some members of the legislature to collect taxes from those least able to pay as opposed to those most able to pay. In addition to raising taxes on other retirees, these legislators believe that Veterans' retirement benefits should also be taxed. I have successfully opposed attempts to tax the retirement benefits of Veterans, but there's a chance this one comes back up again in the 2020 Legislative session.

In other communities in the state, there are state sponsored Veterans' homes, such as in Winfield. We have an opportunity to develop such a home in the Leavenworth community, with the State of Kansas funding 35% and the federal government funding 65% of the home. I support this effort to provide needed services to the most vulnerable Veterans.

Constitutional Amendment Restricting Abortion

There is talk of the Legislature putting a question on the ballot that would explicitly state that the Legislature has full power to limit or ban abortion in Kansas, which would be contrary to the established precedent of the United States Supreme Court.

As with most Constitutional amendments, I would prefer the Legislature provide the people direct authority to amend the state's constitution rather than vesting such an important piece of our democracy with so few.

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