Lawmakers expect Medicaid, education to be big 2014 issues

By: Phil White Email
By: Phil White Email

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WICHITA, Kan. -- State lawmakers return to Topeka Monday to convene the 2014 Kansas Legislative Session.

Many of them expect to be discussing familiar topics.

School finance is certain to be a hotly debated topic yet again, but the tone of that conversation will be dictated by a Kansas Supreme Court Decision expected any day in a school finance lawsuit against the state.

Lawmakers also expect to be talking a lot about Medicaid. Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, said Wichita-area legislators were presented this week with petitions urging them to make the state's Medicaid system available to more people.

"A little over 3,000 people said they wanted our governor and our legislature to expand Medicaid," Faust-Goudeau said.

The expansion can be paid for with federal aid as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Gov. Sam Brownback has stayed out of asking the legislature to decide one way or another, but in a December interview with KAKE News, he expressed concerns about how much the expansion could eventually cost the state if the federal aid goes away.

"The idea that we need to expand Medicaid when we're not able to pay for what we've got in Medicaid now, I don't think is a rational response for us moving forward," Governor Brownback said.

Some lawmakers say, along with discussions about Medicaid expansion, need to come talks about improving KanCare, the state's privatized Medicaid system.

"I think we really need to pay attention to what's happening with KanCare to make sure that the providers get paid in a very quick and efficient manner," said Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita. "That's not happening in the way that we want to."

When the Kansas Supreme Court issues its ruling in a lawsuit filed by school districts arguing that the state backed out of funding promises made in 2005, funding for K-12 education will likely be thrust front and center.

"As an educator, I firmly believe that we need to be financing education and we need to finance it at the levels that the constitution says we're going to," said Rep. Carolyn Bridges, D-Wichita.

However, other legislators, including Brunk, point out the Kansas Constitution requires a "suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state." They argue it is up to legislators -- not courts -- to determine what the suitable provision is.

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