Daily Archives: May 8, 2012

House debates study of potential sale of KU Hospital

Rep. Gene Sullentrop, R-Wichita

TOPEKA — Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, this evening offered an amendment to study the viability of selling The University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City.

But he then withdrew it after House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, called it a “bad idea” that wasn’t discussed with House Republicans until the late hours of a nine-hour budget debate.

The idea has been floated in the past, but has never gained traction.

“Should the state be in the hospital business?” Suellentrop asked. “We have a robust medical community in Wichita that works just fine, privately owned. Could that not be the same occurrence here?”

He said lawmakers need more facts in order to decide, and he stressed it would be a multiple year decision process. “It may prove that we should keep it, and I’d be fine with that,” he said.

O’Neal said Suellentrop didn’t share his proposed amendment with the Republican caucus, where lawmakers usually map out their day and share amendments they plan to propose.

“This is a big deal,” O’Neal said. “This is neither the time nor the place… to be deciding on a issue that does not need to be fixed.”

“Bad idea, bad time, so vote against it,” he said.

House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said sending a signal about the state selling the hospital “would be an awful decision” for the House to make with National Cancer Institute designation pending for the University of Kansas Medical Center. He said that would provide Kansans with cutting-edge cancer treatment and generate economic development.

Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton, said KU School of Medicine could probably survive without the hospital, but he said it would damage it. He said it’s a profit center for the state.

“To jeopardize that would make no sense,” he said. “It would make about as much sense to sell the WSU baseball team.”

Suellentrop said many people have ties to KU and are emotionally attached to the name.

“If it were Fred Brown Hospital, I think it would take on a different character,” he said.

Wichita Republican Rep. Brenda Landwehr said the hospital has nothing to do with the National Cancer Institute designation.

Landwehr said a study may find selling the hospital isn’t a good idea.

“It’s very possible that it is an asset that we should keep and perhaps even improve on,” she said. She said the KU School of Medicine in Wichita faced a funding crisis years ago and now gets funding from two private hospitals in the city and is doing well.

“We have a very good model down in Wichita with Via Christi and with Wesley, and the pass-through Medicaid dollars they give to the medical school, which means less funds the state has to put in,” she said. “So it might be better if we had a private entity and we looked at a funding mechanism like we have down there and the relationship we have.”

The House earlier this week approved a bill that would, among other things, bar residents at the University of Kansas Hospital from performing abortions on state property or on state time.

As that debate wound through the Statehouse throughout the session this year, it sparked questions about whether medical center would lose accreditation of its obstetrics and gynecological program. Lawmakers altered the bill so that its medical residents could do abortions off-site, on their own time, for a year.

Suellentrop and Landwehr said it’s not about abortion.

“What this study may prove is that we should, in fact, sell this facility,” he said.

The idea isn’t going away.

Suellentrop said he plans to keep the discussion going.


Rep. Suellentrop said to consider run for state Senate

Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita

TOPEKA — Wichita Republican Rep. Gene Suellentrop may be considering a run against Sedgwick Republican Sen. Carolyn McGinn in the August primary election. But his decision could hinge on redistricting maps that are at the heart of a political battle being waged in the Statehouse.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, said Suellentrop is considering a Senate run on her Facebook page Monday.

Today, Suellentrop said he would consider running even if lawmakers approve a map that leaves Gary Mason in the same district. But he declined to discuss it further. Mason, a Wichita businessman, has announced plans to run against McGinn as part of a roster of conservative Republicans challenging moderate Republicans in the Senate who they say block bills backed by Gov. Sam Brownback and members of the more conservative House.

“Depending on the outcome, we should weigh all options,” Suellentrop said.

Under one map approved by the House, Suellentrop would be in McGinn’s district. Previously, he would have been in the district represented by Wichita Republican Sen. Jean Schodorf. Landwehr has filed to run against Schodorf in the Republican primary in August.

Suellentrop lives in northwest Wichita near North Ridge Road and West 29th Street North. Another map that has some support in the Senate appears to put Suellentrop in the same district as Wichita Republican Sen. Les Donovan.

House pushes Senate on proof of citizenship to vote

TOPEKA — The state House took action today trying to force the Senate into a vote on whether to move up the deadline when new Kansas voters will be required to provide proof of citizenship to register.

The bill, House Substitute for Senate Bill 15, would start requiring citizenship proof on June 15, rather than Jan. 1 as current law requires.

The overall effect would be that new voters would have to provide a birth certificate, passport or other less common citizenship documents to register for the August primary or the general election in November.

The bill is based on plans proposed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

The House had previously passed the same proposal in another bill, but it stalled in a Senate committee, where senators said next month is too soon for a smooth transition to the new rules.

Knowing they’d be unable to stop the Republican majority from passing the proposal again, House Democrats put up only token resistance.

Only Rep. Ann Mah, the ranking Democrat on the House Elections Committee went to the podium to speak against it.

She briefly recapped her ongoing criticism of the proof-of-citizenship requirement and said it would fall particularly hard on women, who would have to make an extra trip to the election office to swear out an affidavit if their birth name doesn’t match their married name.

“There isn’t any court in the land that is going to say that one sex has an extra step to vote,” she said. “For those of you who have a modicum of common sense, I ask you to vote no. For those of you who want to make the Senate look like heroes … then you can vote yes.”

Rep. Scott Schwab, who carried the bill on the floor, said opponents made the same dire predictions of court action when the Legislature passed the original voter-ID law last year.

“Even though we’ve had over 100 elections this year since voter ID has been implemented, we haven’t had one (court) challenge,” said Schwab, R-Olathe.

Kobach, former state chairman of the Republican Party, has advocated for strict voter ID requirements to fight what he says is widespread voting fraud. Opponents argue that voting fraud is actually negligible and that Kobach’s true mission is to suppress turnout among minority and poor voters who are more likely to support Democrats.

Substituting Kobach’s proposal into a Senate bill, as the House did today, could make it easier for supporters to force a floor vote in the Senate. The bill passed the House 67-53.

The Department of Motor Vehicles, often the first point of contact for new voters, is installing computer systems to handle the scanning of citizenship documents and transmit them to the secretary of state’s office. That system won’t be up and running until August.

As an interim workaround, Kobach has proposed allowing the DMV to certify that new registrants have produced the proper documents. The actual copies would be provided to the secretary of state later when the new computer system is up and running.

The House amended that idea into the bill it is sending to the Senate.

Senate Vice President John Vratil, R-Leawood, said senators still have concerns that the DMV is not yet ready to implement the proof of citizenship requirement.

“The last thing we want to do is mandate something that will deny voters the right to vote,” he said.

The Kansas-Western Missouri chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union today released a flow chart called “Navigating the Kansas Voter ID maze.”

Last year’s voter ID law “has already led to the creation of a Rube Goldberg maze of processes and procedures that almost seem designed to suppress voter participation,” said ACLU Executive director Gary Brunk. “Advancing the proof of citizenship requirement adds even more complexity to this convoluted process.”