Lawmakers fume over state official’s refusal to answer questions about waiting lists

TOPEKA – State lawmakers Wednesday bristled over a top state official’s refusal to answer questions about the state’s growing list of people with disabilities waiting for services.

Gary Haulmark, commissioner of community services and programs in the state’s department for aging and disability services, said a state lawyer told him not to discuss the waiting lists because of “pending litigation.”

The waiting lists include people with physical and developmental disabilities, and the state’s growing waiting lists have been the subject of intense scrutiny for at least a year, including a federal investigation.

The list of people waiting for services has grown from 2,075 people in 2008 to 7,518  as of September, state figures show. That includes people who have no services and those who are underserved.

Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said Haulmark’s refusal to answer questions was “unprecedented.”

“Never once has anyone been instructed not to answer questions that the legislature asks about the waivers, which we are in a position of needing to do,” she said. “What’s the secrecy about it?”

Haulmark said he couldn’t respond.

Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, pressed Haulmark to answer questions.

“I can understand not being willing to answer questions about pending litigation,” he said during a meeting of the Legislative Budget Committee in the Capitol. “But what makes you think we’re going to ask about litigation?”

Vratil said he understands not talking about pending litigation, but he said he was shocked that Haulmark couldn’t respond to the legislature at all. “That I find hard to believe,” he said.

Budget Committee Chairwoman Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, asked Haulmark to bring the state lawyer with him to a meeting Thursday to explain why lawmakers can’t get answers to basic questions.

Haulmark indicated he would bring the lawyer to the meeting.

Tom Laing, executive director of InterHab, a statewide association of developmental disability service providers, said the waiting lists represent unmet needs and the undiminished hopes of families who need help.

“The growth of the waiting lists represents the insufficient state response to those hopes and needs,” he said.

Learn more about the waiting lists in this Eagle story.