Daily Archives: April 30, 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.