Daily Archives: March 29, 2012

Reps. Ward, Landwehr trade shots over managed care for developmentally disabled

A proposal to except developmental disability care from the governor’s Medicaid reform effort led to a tense exchange — and an admonition from the speaker of the House — for two of Wichita’s most prominent lawmakers.

The exchange came after Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, and Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, tangled over an attempt by Ward to amend a bill to take developmental disabilities out of Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to cap the costs of the state’s Medicaid services programs.

Brownback is in the process of implementing a plan to shift services to managed-care plans administered by for-profit insurance companies, to be called KanCare.

Ward

Ward strongly criticized Landwehr, the chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee, for delaying consideration of the exception. At one point, he urged the House to “keep your big-boy pants on, today’s the day.”

But as it turned out, it wasn’t the day.

Landwehr and her allies succeeded in keeping Ward’s amendment from coming to a floor vote by getting the underlying bill sent back to committee on a 69-54 vote.

Landwehr

“I would be happy to have two or three weeks of hearings on this (disabilities) issue because it’s major,” Landwehr said. “I understand these budgets, I actually know some of these kids as friends and family and neighbors that are receiving these services. I talk to the parents. To make a policy change like this on the floor is not doing a service to them.”

Ward said after the meeting that the bill was sent to the Appropriations Committee to kill it, but he plans to bring it up again when the Legislature reconvenes for its wrap-up session late next month.

Providers, parents and others in the developmental disabilities community have been lobbying for an exemption from KanCare, out of concern that the change would be too disruptive to mentally fragile individuals receiving home- and community-based services. Read More »

House OKs stronger ethics rules for Bioscience Authority

TOPEKA — The House of Representatives today overwhelmingly supported a measure to try to prevent conflict of interest by board members and staff of the Kansas Bioscience Authority.

House Substitute for Senate Bill 40, carried on the floor by Rep. Jo Ann Pottorff, R-Wichita, seeks to stop KBA officials from benefiting from the state-supported agency’s business-development grants.

The bill would prohibit board members, employees, agents or advisors of the authority from directly benefiting from authority contracts or transactions.

A person with a conflict would have to either resign from the authority or divest themselves of the financial interest creating the conflict.

At present, the authority only requires its board members to recuse themselves from participating in issues in which they have a conflict.

The new bill does allow board members and employees to keep their positions in cases of indirect benefits from agency decisions, as long as they disclose the indirect conflict in writing and recuse themselves from participating on the issue.

In a written response to an inquiry from The Eagle, authority board Chairman Dan Watkins did not take a position on the bill.

“The KBA has been, and remains, committed to meeting a high standard of integrity in its operations and investments,” the statement said. “This bill provides added measures to address conflicts that may be presented and, as with our prior statutory and policy provisions, the KBA plans to adhere to them.”

The bill is part of the fallout from a year of investigation and a lengthy audit of the agency, prompted by Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita and Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration.

Among the audit’s findings were two cases of potential conflict:

  • A company called NanoScale Inc. received four Bioscience Authority grants totaling $675,000. Bill Sanford, an authority board member who now serves as vice chairman, owns 14 percent of NanoScale and is chairman of the board of the company, according to the audit. Board minutes and interviews indicated that Sanford recused himself from the discussions and votes on the grants benefiting NanoScale.

  • Former authority board member Angela Kreps voted for contracts between the agency and KansasBio, a private bioscience trade association, according to the audit. Kreps is president of KansasBio. From 2006 to 2010, the authority contracted with KansasBio for $100,000 each year to stage a trade conference. The audit found Kreps voted on spending plans including the KansasBio contracts in 2008 and 2009.

The Senate Commerce Committee, led by Wagle, has held several hearings on allegations of mis-spending and other issues involving the authority and had tried to pass a similar bill.

However, the Senate bill is stalled in the Ethics and Elections Committee and Senate leaders have been reluctant to move forward, concerned that controversy around the agency could compromise its mission of creating jobs by encouraging bioscience businesses to start in or move to Kansas.

Wagle said the House version of the conflict-of-interest bill is actually stronger than the one the senators had proposed.

The Senate bill would prohibit authority board members and officers from benefiting from the agency’s decisions, but did not specify that they would have to resign or divest their interest in case of a conflict.

“Their bill’s better than ours,” Wagle said.

The House bill was advanced on a unanimous voice vote with a final vote expected Friday.

House and Senate negotiate tax cuts; details uncertain

TOPEKA — House and Senate negotiators plan to continue their slog through the details of two income tax reduction bills today.

After two days of meetings, the six-member group has yet to formally agree on anything, though they’ve asked legislative researchers to explore the costs of more than a dozen changes to the tax code. The most expensive aspect of negotiations remains untouched: How much should individual income taxes be reduced?

Still, some themes are emerging.

Senators are poised to agree with House members on phasing out non-wage income taxes for a wide variety of businesses that includes limited liability companies, subchapter S corporations and sole proprietors. Gov. Sam Brownback has pushed for the immediate elimination of that tax and equates it to shooting adrenaline into the hearts of businesses.

But the roughly $180 million per year in lost revenue that would otherwise fund state services has lawmakers searching for ways to ease the sticker shock. The House plan senators have shown initial support for starts in 2013 with three years of exempting the first $100,000 of non-wage income taxes for those business types. It exempts the first $250,000 of income in 2016 and 2017 before eliminating the tax altogether.

Both House and Senate negotiators agreed that the food sales tax refund available to low-income families should stay in place, instead of being repealed to help pay for the tax cuts. A proposed elimination of sales tax on groceries approved by the House appears unlikely to survive negotiations because it would add about $320 million to the cost of the plan.

The two plans being discussed each cost hundreds of millions of dollars, which many opponents worry would erode essential state services that have already been cut as result of the Great Recession. Read More »