Daily Archives: April 25, 2012

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.


House speaker backs away from redistricting showdown with Senate

TOPEKA — House Speaker Mike O’Neal has backed away from a plan to start redrawing state Senate districts.

Today, in a brief meeting of the House Redistricting Committee, O’Neal said he’s received assurances from the Senate leadership that they’ll bring a map to a vote by Friday. In addition to cutting today’s meeting short, O’Neal canceled a redistricting meeting scheduled for Friday.

“Hopefully the next meeting will be a conference committee,” where House and Senate negotiators will get together to work out any differences between their chambers’ maps, O’Neal said.

The two Houses of the Legislature and the governor are required once every 10 years to redraw legislative districts to reflect population shifts in the Census and ensure equal representation.

O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, had earlier announced that the House would begin work on Senate district maps today, because the Senate hasn’t yet done its own redistricting.

O’Neal’s plan to have the House draw Senate maps would have been a departure from long tradition.

Ordinarily, the House would draw up its maps and the Senate would draw its own, and each chamber would pass the other’s map without changes.

But this year, the Senate has been hard pressed to pass a map because of election-year pressures.

A map currently under consideration would separate at least three and possibly more incumbent senators from House members and others who hope to challenge them in the election.

One of those potential challengers, Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, said that even if the Senate does pass a map, she’d still like to see the House create its own Senate map.

Landwehr is one of the representatives who hopes to move up to the Senate and has announced plans to run against moderate Republican Jean Schodorf.

However, the Senate’s current proposed map would put Landwehr and Schodorf in different districts.

Landwehr accused the Senate of “gerrymandering” districts in an attempt to protect incumbents.

“I would hope if they continue down that path … the House might give some consideration to doing a Senate map,” Landwehr said.

Landwehr said she doesn’t understand why senators — including Schodorf — should be afraid to face an opponent if they were doing what voters elected them to do.

She said Schodorf runs on a conservative Republican platform and then votes more liberally in Topeka.

“Look how she votes, the majority of the time it’s with the Democrats,” Landwehr said.

Schodorf replied that she’s not afraid to run against Landwehr and has planned to run against her all along.

“She’s just blustering and trying to bully people,” Schodorf said. “I did not want be on that (redistricting) committee and I haven’t drawn any maps.

“The Senate’s going to draw a map they believe creates the best districts, not gerrymandered.”

O’Neal said the Senate will probably advance the “Ad Astra” map, the one that has troubled Landwehr and others, primarily conservative Republicans, who want to challenge sitting senators in the election.

O’Neal did not commit to challenging the Senate’s map if the final version does draw challengers out of incumbents’ districts, although he acknowledged that is a concern.

“We’ll take a look at it when it comes out,” he said.

Brownback agrees to delay managed-care for developmentally disabled, hours after rally brings hundreds to Capitol

Governor Sam Brownback’s office announced today he’s agreed to a one-year delay in implementing a plan to bring services for the developmentally under managed care.

The announcement, via a written statement, came hours after about 800 developmentally disabled people and their supporters descended like a red-shirted tide on the Capitol lawn. They called on the Legislature and the governor to at least delay — and preferably kill — plans to bring their community-based long-term services under managed care.

The administration’s statement acknowledged the angst his proposal has created in the developmental disabilities community and said slowing the pace of change has the potential to calm those fears.

“We have heard the concerns expressed by family members of developmentally disabled individuals about the coming reforms and the pace of the change in particular,” Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer — a physician and Brownback’s point man on health reform — said in the statement. “We believe this staggered implementation will allow for more conversations, more public input, and a more effective implementation for persons utilizing developmental disability waiver services.”

The protesters were motivated by Brownback’s plans to reform Medicaid services, replacing state-run programs with a program called KanCare that would be administered under contract by private insurance companies. Brownback is implementing the plan in an effort to cap Medicaid costs.

The developmental disabilities community has been extremely wary of the plan because, they say, the needs of the developmentally disabled vary widely from person to person and do not lend themselves well to standardized service solutions.

One concerned person is Mardell Byrd. She traveled from Wichita with her son Michael Camp, to ask legislators to carve out care for developmentally disabled Kansans from the KanCare program.

“You are going to have to show me that this big corporation is going to take better care of my child than individual people that have known him over the years and understand his needs.”

Michael Camp has participated in KETCH, a service provider for the mentally disabled, for more than 20 years. The program provides Camp with a job as well an apartment. Byrd said she would hate to see any hasty changes to a program that has worked so well for her son.

At Wednesday’s rally, an annual event called “Push Day” in the disabilities community, clients and some of the people who provide their services created an impromptu display on the South steps of the Capitol.

Under a logo saying “Don’t gamble with our lives, carve out DD,” they placed personal mementos, such as stuffed animals, Special Olympics medals and paintings, to dramatize to lawmakers and the governor that they are individuals with individual needs.

The Legislature is about to consider a budget proviso that would delay the implementation of KanCare for long-term care for the developmentally disabled for one year. That, supporters say, would give some time to evaluate how the KanCare plan works for other services before committing to implementation for the developmentally disabled.

Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, addressed the group and said the state should proceed carefully with any changes in programs for the developmentally disabled.

“How we treat those who are unable to take care of themselves … I believe defines us as a state,” he said. “It says who we are and what kind of people we are.”

Later, Kelsey said he would prefer to test the KanCare concept for the disabled with a pilot project in one or two counties before taking it statewide.

“We do not want to destroy something that is very good in the hope that we’ll get to something better,” he said. “Let’s test it first, not try to whip it all through at one time and find out it doesn’t work.”

Brownback’s statement encouraged voluntary pilot programs like Kelsey wants.

“We are confident the new KanCare system will work for the greater good of those who depend upon Medicaid,” Brownback said. “We believe that allowing another year of discussion and input from the developmental disability community will make them comfortable with the program and allow us to craft solutions to the concerns they’re expressing.”

Byrd said she would support a slower and more cautious approach to changes that could affect many Kansans’ lives.

“At some point, if we can figure it out, and it’s going to work the correct way and my child is going to be taken care of and all his cares, then let’s see that, but we are kind of pushing it,” she said. “We are not trying it out.”

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita and chairwoman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, said she doesn’t think a pilot program would be feasible in the case of disabilities services.

“I think you would have a hard time getting contractors to bid on a pilot program,” Landwehr said. “I think that’s what makes it unfeasible.”

After the rally, the demonstrators fanned out through the Capitol in search of legislators to lobby.

Efforts to change the KanCare plan are paying off because of grass-roots advocacy, said Tom Laing, executive director of Interhab, a statewide association representing the developmentally disabled and their service providers.

“The governor is listening, the lieutenant governor is listening, the Legislature is listening, that’s a good thing,” Laing said.