Welcome to “The Playground.”
The Playground is my brief and non-boring periodic report of pertinent information taking place here in our Kansas Capitol. To set the scene for you, I grab my state-issued laptop (which I was told cost about $1,000), find some place here in the Capitol where I can escape the noise, and I write to you — my neighbors, family, and friends — about the issues, concerns and topics that are near-and-dear to you.
Why call it The Playground? One of the technical definitions of a playground is “an area known or suited for activity of a specified sort.” There are committee meetings, political party meetings, lunches, suppers, appointments, tours, lectures, booklets, pamphlets, interviews, papers, studies, constituents, chatting, stairs to climb, columns to write, positions to take, and people to meet. Calling it The Playground just fits.
• One of the hot topics right now is “uncorking” Kansas. This is the push by some in our state to change our current liquor laws to allow hard liquor to be sold outside of liquor stores. This would mean that liquor could be sold the same way as bread or milk in stores. Proponents think the convenience will increase liquor sales and revenue, add jobs, and liquor stores will be fine. Opponents say it will kill Mom and Pop liquor stores, and that there is a reason we adopted the current laws in the first place: so our kids and families don’t have to come face to face with liquor if they choose not to.
• Medicaid expansion is another hot topic. Under the federal Affordable Care Act, states now face a decision on whether to expand Medicaid because of the legislation (also known as Obamacare). Medicaid was intended to be a safety-net program for the poor. The poor in Kansas already are covered. In fact, the state is remaking the program to better serve their healthcare needs with KanCare. To encourage Medicaid expansion, the federal government promises it will pay for the costs up front and then pay 90 percent of costs in the future. The problem is the federal government’s large unfunded liabilities and trillions of dollars of debt.
According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, expanding Medicaid will cost $1.1 billion during the next 10 years. Bond rating agencies are aware that states that choose to expand an entitlement program dependent on federal funds are taking a chance the federal support could be reduced or eliminated. Missouri now is grappling with the possibility their credit rating could be downgraded if they become more dependent on the federal government’s entitlement funding. Kansas faces the same dilemma. If the federal government cannot make Medicaid payments to states, the people served by the expansion would become the state’s obligation. Bond rating agencies will be watching states very closely and looking for long term revenue plans from the states who take on Medicaid expansion.
The bottom line is, what does Medicaid expansion mean for long-term economic stability of Kansas? We need to examine all the possible long term economic repercussions. As with every question before the legislature, there are two sides. Hospitals across Kansas will continue to be liable for patient costs when they come into emergency rooms without insurance. Not expanding Medicaid would place a significant burden on Kansas hospitals.
• The House Education Committee approved a bill (HB 2221) that allows schools boards to grant professional education organizations access to teacher email inboxes and mailboxes. Currently, the Kansas National Educators Association (KNEA) has exclusive access to teacher’s emails and mailboxes. HB 2221 hinges on the belief that teachers and all workers deserve to know all the resource options available to them. If passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, teachers will be aware of all options available to them for classroom insurance and other professional resources.
• Many of you have been asking for a protection bill for our Second Amendment rights in Kansas. There is a bill being heard in committee right now (HB 2199), which I co-sponsored, that will do just that. It is called the Second Amendment Protection Act. You can track it online at http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2013_14/measures/hb2199/
• On a personal note, I recently had the pleasure to play host to four pages from Wellsville schools, including Payton Erhart, Chad Guthrie, Anna Kline and Jessica Steeb. What a fantastic group of young people! All of them did a superb job in their duties, asked very good questions and made great conversation. If you know of any middle school-aged young people who would like to page for a day, call my office. It is a great hands-on learning experience and will hopefully form a great memory of Statesmanship and public service.
Kevin Jones is Kansas House member, representing Franklin County. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (785) 296-6287.