Monthly Archives: April 2012

Senior citizen park discounts saved by Senate vote

TOPEKA — The Senate has rejected a bill that would have allowed people to buy yearly state park passes with their vehicle registration, but would have also eliminated half-off discounts for seniors and the disabled.

Buy a vote of 23-13, senators voted down House Bill 2729, which supporters said would make it easier for people to buy park passes and increase revenue for the Department of Wildlife and Parks.

The sticking point was a section of the bill that would have revoked the discounts now enjoyed by residents 65 and older and people with disabilities.

Under the bill, Kansas motorists would have been able to buy a park pass for $15.50 when they renewed their car license plates.

That’s less than the current costs of $24.70 for permits bought in the peak season of April through September and $19.70 for permits purchased in October through March, said Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, who carried the bill on the floor.

Although all the permits expire at the end of the year, the parks department offers the discounted passes during the off season to try to maintain continuous funding year-round.

Brungardt said that making it more convenient to buy a park pass had proven itself in the states on Lake Michigan, where more people bought permits and state revenue went up when the permits were offered in conjunction with car registration.

For Kansas seniors and the disabled, the additional cost of a yearly park permit would have risen by about $3 to $5.

That was too much for the majority of senators, including Sens. Robert Olson, R-Olathe, and Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha.

Olson said he thinks it’s a tough time for seniors, with rising prices and fixed incomes cutting into their buying power.

“Now, we’re going to stick them more to go to state parks,” he said.

Pyle said doing away with the park discount would send a message to the elderly that they should consider retiring to another state.

Brungardt and Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, both over 65, argued that most of the seniors using the parks are not as poor as opponents of the bill want people to believe.

Ostmeyer questioned why seniors with $100,000 recreational vehicles would need to worry about an extra $3 a year for a park permit. He said it’s not fair to younger park users.

“I’m 69 years old,” he said after the meeting. “Why should they have to pay higher fees so I can have a privilege?”

He said the parks are strapped for money and not fixing that could lead to closures, meaning nobody would get to use the parks.

Ostmeyer said Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed shifting some gambling income from economic development to wildlife and parks, but that hasn’t happened yet — and may not.

“They’ll start shutting gates and people will start hollering,” he said.

House OK’s bill allowing dental hygienists to fill cavities, perform other basic services

TOPEKA — A bill that would let specially trained dental hygienists do temporary fillings, pull baby teeth and perform other basic dental services passed the House unanimously today.

The idea behind the measure is to free the limited number of dentists at urban and rural clinics to spend their time on more complicated work.

House Bill 2631 creates a new class of “Level III” hygienists who would receive more training than regular hygienists.

In addition to the cleaning and decay prevention functions now performed by hygienists, a Level III hygienist would be allowed to:

– Identify and remove decay, and place a temporary filling.

– Adjust dentures and check for sore spots.

– Extract loose baby teeth.

– Smooth sharp edges on teeth with powered drills.

– Use local dental anaesthesics, within limits.

Level III hygienists would be allowed to work with prisons, indigent health care clinics, low-income seniors and the developmentally disabled. They could also serve children in state custody, foster children and other children who meet the legal definition of dentally underserved.

A separate bill that would have provided for a larger expansion of services that could be performed by nondentists died after opposition from dentists, said state Rep. Geraldine Flaharty, D-Wichita.

The bill approved today had no organized opposition and passed the House 120-0.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, called it a “baby step” toward broader dental services for the poor.

He said the concept is to help to low-cost clinics, such as the GraceMed Clinic in Wichita, that provide dental services to the poor.

“This helps them deliver services to a population, usually on Medicaid, that (private) dentists won’t take,” he said.

Dave Sanford, chief executive officer at GraceMed, characterized the vote as “a very small step in the right direction,” but added “it doesn’t come near to what really needs to happen” to improve access to dental services in Kansas.

He said the clinic has no plans to have dental hygienists perform the kind of services allowed by HB 2631. In fact, in many cases, it would increase costs for the clinic and inconvenience for patients, he said.

For example, if a hygienist did a temporary filling at a remote site, the patient would still need to come to the main clinic for their permanent filling.

He said it would be much more helpful to create a category for “registered dental practitioners,” who would be allowed to perform more permanent restorative services for hard-to-serve populations.

He said Fort Hays State University has offered to create such a program to train practitioners to provide basic service in western Kansas, which is suffering a dentist shortage.

He said the dental practitioner bill is likely to come up again next year.

“Hopefully it (HB 2631) gets us a step forward toward the registered dental practitioners,” he said. “That really would start to expand access to care.”

House votes to increase grandparent rights in custody cases

TOPEKA — The House of Representatives has given its final approval to a bill to give “substantial consideration” to grandparents of children who have been removed from their parents’ custody.

The bill follows on last year’s grandparents’ rights legislation that defined grandparents as “interested parties” in cases where children need protection from parental abuse or neglect. It has been a priority for the Silver Haired Legislature, which advises the Legislature on bills of interest to senior citizens.

The House voted 120-0 in favor of a compromise on Senate Bill 262 that was worked out in a House-Senate conference committee.

The final bill does not go as far toward grandparents’ rights as the House originally favored.

The original House legislation would have given grandparents “preference” as potential custodians of children removed from their parents’care.

The Senate passed a weaker version that would have required courts to give “consideration” to grandparents.

The conference committee settled on giving grandparents “substantial consideration.”

If a judge decides not to place a grandchild with grandparents, the reason for the decision would have to be recorded in the official case record.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, said he thinks the bill accomplished a “good and appropriate balance” between grandparents’ rights and the requirement that courts serve the best interest of the child.

Rep. Mike Kiegerl, R-Olathe, said family placements “are preferable placements to strangers, especially with young children.”

“I will vote for this bill, but I’m not crazy about it,” Kiegerl said.

The bill now goes to a final vote in the Senate.

Jayhawk basketball players mingle in the Statehouse

TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback and state lawmakers took a short break from politics this morning to talk about something they all seem to agree on — their love of Jayhawks basketball.

Senators endorsed a resolution, Gov. Sam Brownback is set to sign a resolution and a basketball hoop is set up in the lobby on the first floor of the Statehouse. Meanwhile, players, including Jeff Withey, Travis Releford, Conner Teahan and Jordan Juenemann, signed autographs and shook hands while cameras flashed in the hallways.

“We are ecstatic with the performance of KU basketball — men’s and women’s — this year,” Brownback said.

Brownback attended the last three games the men’s team played, saying, like most KU fans, he enjoyed the Elite 8 victory over North Carolina the most.





Appropriations committee delays managed care for developmentally disabled

Hundreds of people with disabilities and their supporters on Wednesday urged legislators to delay a plan to bring developmental disability services under managed care.

TOPEKA – Long-term services for people with developmental disabilities won’t be included in Gov. Sam Brownback’s managed care plan until 2014 under a move approved by the House Appropriations Committee this morning.

Approval of the budget proviso follows months of protest from organizations that provide services to people who have significant disabilities, such as autism. The organizations and people who have those disabilities worry that the insurance companies bidding to manage the state’s new KanCare system may not have enough experience with long-term care services.

Brownback and other conservative Republicans stood by including those services in the managed care plan for months. But earlier this week, Brownback acknowledged the widespread concerns and endorsed the move to delay their inclusion in KanCare until Jan. 1, 2014, a year after most other Medicaid services fall under the management of three private insurance companies.

But several lawmakers voiced concern that the budget proviso wasn’t shown to the organizations that hope to be excluded from KanCare.

Rep. Jerry Henry, D-Cummings, questioned whether the proviso could allow case managers for the developmentally disabled to fall under KanCare. Rep. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, assured him no one would be forced to change who their case manager is.

But concerns persisted.

“I have concerns that this hasn’t been fully vetted by everybody,” Henry said.

The budget proviso includes an option for providers of home and community based waiver services to join a pilot project to see how the managed care model could work. Denning said Brownback administration officials say some organizations are interested in “test driving” the program, but he declined to name those organizations.

Wichita Republican Rep. Jo Ann Pottorff sought to delay a vote on the proviso until someone made public the groups who want to join the pilot program. But a move to delay the vote until Monday failed.

Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Democrat from Lawrence, questioned why lawmakers would include the option of a pilot project when providers have clearly said they don’t want to be included in managed care.

“I can’t see anyone changing their mind because they didn’t want it in the first place,” she said. “They wanted to be outside of it.”



Lawmaker protests “damn ugly” district, but Senate redistricting map moves forward

TOPEKA — After a short committee meeting and an angry outburst from one member, the state Senate inched toward approving new districts for its members.

On an 8-3 vote, the Senate Redistricting Committee advanced new district maps for the Senate, House and state Board of Education.

But not before a tirade from Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, who protested the large geographic size of the redrawn 40th Senate District in the northwest corner of the state.

Ostmeyer complained that it would take him 3 1/2 hours to traverse the 40th from corner to corner while other more urban districts are far more compact.

“Some of you are just picking up a precinct, you can walk across your damn district in a day,” Ostmeyer said. “I think my district deserves better from this committee. I am disappointed to think that anybody in this chair, and you can grin about it, try covering my district.

“I make the choice to serve that district, but to serve a district that damn ugly … I think is wrong.”

Ostmeyer declined to comment after the meeting.

The Senate is working to catch up to the House in the once-every-10-year process of redistricting. The Legislature and governor are required by the state Constitution to redraw district lines to reflect population changes in the Census and ensure equal representation across the state.

The committee made only slight changes to the Senate map, known as “Ad Astra.”

The changes included swapping numbers between a western Kansas area that is essentially losing a district because of loss of population and Johnson County, which is gaining one due to population increase.

Another change slightly moved a district line to avoid dividing the towns of Baxter Springs and Keats, a small community near Manhattan.

The committee also approved a map for the state Board of Education and “Cottonwood 1,” a House map that had been drawn by the House earlier.

Those maps are expected to come before the full Senate for a vote next week, said committee Chairman Tim Owens, R-Overland Park.

The Ad Astra map has been criticized by leaders in the House and some senators because it separates some Senate incumbents from challengers who have announced intentions to seek the seats.

In Sedgwick County, the Ad Astra map would put Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, in a different district than a challenger, Rep. Brenda Landwehr, also R-Wichita.

It also would move businessman Gary Mason out of the district of the senator he wants to challenge, Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick,

Owens said the Redistricting Committee will be called back next week to work on Congressional districts.

The Senate has already rejected the House’s first shot at a congressional map, which would have divided Topeka between two districts. It has also narrowly rejected a conservative-leaning Senate map proposed by Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, that would have put the challengers in the districts where they want to be.

Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said he has concerns about the Ad Astra map because it creates a head-to-head matchup in western Kansas between two sitting senators, Garrett Love, R-Montezuma and Allen Schmidt, D-Hays.

Although Senate leaders made it a priority to avoid districts pitting incumbents against each other, rural Kansas has to essentially lose a Senate district somewhere to accommodate a new district in growing Johnson County.

Senate Republican leaders have said it made sense to put Love and Schmidt in the same district, because both were appointed to fill vacancies and neither has had to face an election for his current seat.

Hensley, however, said he thinks some other part of the state should lose a district.

“Western Kansas took the hit 10 years ago and I’m not sure it’s fair that western Kansas should once again take the hit,” he said.

Hensley said he does not plan to offer amendments to the revised Ad Astra map and said he’s not sure whether Democrats will try to help pass it.

The Democrats on the Redistricting Committee, Hensley, Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, and David Haley, D-Kansas City, all voted to advance the Ad Astra map to the full Senate.

Hensley did say that he thinks the Democrats will have a key role because of the division among the Republicans, who numerically dominate the Senate.

“I think there is a tremendous amount of conflict in the Senate map between the Republicans and I would view the Senate Democratic Caucus’ role as, well, we have seven or eight votes that are important in terms of getting to the constitutional majority of 21,” he said. “We have yet to really sit down as a caucus and visit about where we will be in the whole scheme of things, but I think we’ll play a very important role in terms of whether this map is actually going to end up passing.”

Faust-Goudeau files for re-election, plans to run on legislative record


State Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau has filed for re-election, solidifying a 29th District rematch with her 2008 opponent KC Ohaebosim.

Faust-Goudeau, 52, filed her candidacy papers in Topeka where she is finishing out the current legislative session and said today that she plans to run on her record as a senator.

Faust-Goudeau faced Ohaebosim, also a Democrat, four years ago in her first run for Senate. She won the primary with about 70 percent of the vote, and then beat Republican Kenya Cox in the general election by about the same margin.

Ohaebosim said he welcomes the chance to face Faust-Goudeau again because a competitive race is “good for the Democratic process.”

He said he looks forward to debating Faust-Goudeau and said he plans to attend any opportunities offered to participate in forums for community groups.

“We’re very happy that she did decide to file,” he said. “We want the voters to take a good hard look at all the candidates in the 29th District.”

Grandparents’ right has been Faust-Goudeau’s signature issue, as a senator for four years and a state representative for five before that.

She has shepherded three bills on that topic, starting with the first bill she filed as a freshman lawmaker in 2004.

That bill, which was enacted in 2006, provided for grandparents to receive financial support when they take over care of grandchildren who would otherwise be placed in foster homes at a higher cost to the state.

Last year, she guided through a bill requiring grandparents to receive notification of child-in-need-of-care court proceedings involving their grandchildren. And this year, she has been advocating for a bill that is close to final passage to require courts to give consideration to grandparents when making decisions in child-placement cases.

“Everybody thinks it’s been one (grandparents’ rights bill), but it’s three distinct pieces that have helped people not only in the 29th District but throughout the state of Kansas,” she said.

Faust-Goudeau also has been active on insurance, with a bill to provide continued health care for spouses and children of firefighters killed in the line of duty; and identity theft, with a bill that allows victims whose identities were stolen to clear criminal records without having to pay.

Faust-Goudeau has also been active in the northeast Wichita community, serving as chairwoman of a monument committee for a memorial dedicated to the 30 people who died when an Air Force tanker crashed in the North Piatt neighborhood in 1965.

Listing her occupation as “community activist” on her state Web page, Faust-Goudeau has worked with schools and other agencies for children, including efforts to teach financial literacy and fathering skills.

Legislature may still take action on confusing ballot measures

TOPEKA — A House-Senate conference committee could breathe new life into a Wichita-inspired proposal to help voters understand ballot measures they vote on.

Members of the House Elections Committee asked their Senate counterparts to consider adding language to a bill to allow officials to provide an explanation when it’s not clear to voters what a particular ballot measure would do.

Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe and chairman of the House Elections Committee, said the proposal has “maybe a 50-50 shot” of getting passed this year and if not, it will definitely come up again at next year’s session.

The issue arose out of voter frustration over a Feb. 28 Wichita referendum where voters rescinded a tax incentive the City Council had granted to developers of the Ambassador Hotel project downtown.

The ballot question read: “Shall Charter Ordinance 216 entitled: ‘A charter ordinance amending and repealing Section 1 of Charter Ordinance No. 213, of the city of Wichita, Kansas, which amended and repealed Section 1 of Charter Ordinance No. 183 of the city of Wichita which amended and repealed Section 1 of Charter Ordinance No. 174 of the city of Wichita, Kansas, pertaining to the application of revenues from the transient guest tax’ take effect?”

“This thing was not written in English,” Rep. Mario Goico, R-Wichita, told the conference committee today. “I don’t think that could be called English, even though there were English words there.”

A “yes” vote favored the hotel subsidy, while a “no” vote was to rescind it. Voters complained that it was impossible to tell that from the ballot language, but those who asked the county election office for clarification could only be told “yes means yes and no means no.”

The ballot language that was used followed the requirements laid down in the state Constitution, officials said.

Earlier this year, the House passed an amendment to allow election officials to request that a plain-language “explainer” be prepared if they found a ballot measure to be confusing.

In local elections, the explainer would be written by the county or district attorney, and reviewed by the secretary of state or the attorney general, to ensure that the wording didn’t favor either side in the election.

The Senate has not acted on the House amendment, which was part of a larger bill.

In an effort to revive the proposal, Schwab asked senators on the conference committee to talk to their leaders and to Sedgwick County senators about the possibility of adding it to House Substitute for Senate Bill 129, a catch-all elections bill that the committee is working on.

The proposal has three solid votes on the conference committee: Schwab, Goico and Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita.

Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, opposes the proposal. She said she’s worried that explainers could be written to sway voters for or against a ballot measure, potentially creating a situation where “whoever writes the explainer wins.”

The potential swing votes on the six-member conference committee include Sens. Terrie Huntington, R-Fairway, and Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka.

Both agreed that something has to be done about confusing ballot measures, but they weren’t sure if the House’s solution, which hadn’t been heard in the Senate, is the right one.

“The concept is good, it’s just not fleshed out enough,” Schmidt said.

After reading the Wichita ballot measure, Huntington, the chairwoman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, acknowledged that it was not understandable.

“We’ll just see what we can do,” she said.

Other significant provisions in SB 129 include:

– Allowing members of native American tribes to use tribal identification to comply with the voter ID law passed last year.

– Raising the limit on individual contributions to state Board of Education candidates from $500 to $1,000.

Senate passes final version of bill to abolish Kansas Arts Commission, replace it with commerce board

TOPEKA — More than a year after Gov. Sam Brownback started abolishing the Kansas Arts Commission, the state Senate today gave its final approval to a bill that will do that.

Senate Substitute for House Bill 2454 will create a new Creative Arts Industries Commission under the control of the Department of Commerce.

The new commission would take over all the duties of the Arts Commission and the Kansas Film Services Commission, both of which will be abolished.

The new agency will be governed by an 11-member commission, made up of:

– Five members appointed by the governor.

– Four members appointed by the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate.

– Two members appointed by the minority leaders in the House and Senate.

One of Brownback’s first acts as governor upon taking office last year was to issue an executive order abolishing the Arts Commission, which he wanted to replace with a privately funded arts council.

The Senate invoked its authority to block the governor’s decision, which technically kept the Arts Commission alive. But Brownback laid off the staff of the agency and took away its $700,000 a year in funding.

Last year, Kansas lost an estimated $1.2 million in federal arts funding because of the lack of a state-supported arts agency.

Sen. Terrie Huntington, R-Fairway, carried the bill on the floor today. She said the new arts and film agency is modeled on Colorado’s Creative Industries Division.

She said in budget talks, the House and Senate have basically agreed on $700,000 to go to the new commission. If the governor doesn’t veto it, that “would go a long way” toward restoring Kansas’ ability to get federal funds, Huntington said.

“It would give the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) an indication that Kansas has the administration to administer grants,” Huntington said.

The focus of the new commission will be more on economic development and creating jobs in the arts, said Huntington, a former member of the film board.

The bill, already agreed to by a House-Senate conference committee, passed the Senate 38-1.

It will now proceed to the House, which is expected to approve it, and then to the governor.

Former Republican lawmakers oppose Brownback on education, taxes

Former Republican Rep. Rochelle Chronister announces the formation of the Traditional Republicans for Common Sense

TOPEKA — A group of roughly 50 former Republican lawmakers today said they oppose Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposals to eliminate income taxes and reconfigure how the state funds education.

Rochelle Chronister, a former assistant majority leader and former chair of the state Republican Party, said the current school finance model would work if properly funded and she warned that eliminating income taxes could put more pressure on the poor.

“This is truly a moral crisis for our state,” she said at a news conference in the Statehouse. “Asking the poorest to pay more and the richest to pay less is unfair.”

The group is called Traditional Republicans for Common Sense. But Chronister declined to define what “traditional” means. The term is usually synonymous with “moderate.”

Chronister’s comments come just minutes before House and Senate negotiators plan to meet to hash out differences between two costly income tax reduction plans.

Chronister said the group of former Republican lawmakers is growing. But she said the group hasn’t decided whether they will help finance campaigns of other Republicans, such as the eight incumbent Republican senators facing challenges from candidates who have more conservative stances on taxes and spending.

Only one former lawmaker from Wichita is among the group — former Rep. Sandy Duncan. Chronister said there are probably fewer members from Wichita because the city typically produces more conservative lawmakers.