Greetings from Topeka - before getting into legislative news, one of my favorite things to do in Topeka is helping our young people experience government at work. The Legislative Page program is a real honor. See if you recognize any of the students in the pictures below who have served recently as Pages from our district...
From Pratt High School: Ciara Hodgkinson & Hannah Coates
From St. John Middle School: Mackenzie Hacker & August Siefkes
From St. John High School: Remington Walker & Greyson Collins
From Liberty Middle School in Pratt: Sian Helfrich & Erin Jackson
Now to a legislative update...Our access to rural healthcare took a significant hit today. The governor vetoed the bill to expand Medicaid and ensure our rural hospitals and clinics can remain open. It was supported by strong majorities of both parties in both the House and Senate.
Every single hospital in the 113th asked for me to support expanding Medicaid. Without the hundreds of millions of additional federal dollars coming into Kansas to pay for services, our rural towns will see more hospitals close under the weight of serving patients who can't pay. Independence has already lost their hospital. I will fight to make sure our rural hospitals can remain open.
An attempt at a veto override started in the House yesterday. After over an hour of debate there was a motion to “lay question on the table” until possibly next week. The reason for doing this was so a “Call to the House” was not done. There was a legislator who was attending a funeral 5 hours away and we would have had to wait for her return. During those hours waiting we would have been locked in the House Chamber with nothing being done but sitting. There was some important committee work planned for after lunch. A “Call to the House” would have stopped the work from going forward. A veto override requires 2/3rd's majority of the House and Senate. It’s a high bar to climb.
I recognize that not everyone in our district supports the expansion of Medicaid. I also recognize that my votes in Topeka transcend the talking points spewed by some Topeka lobbyists. I am happy to discuss any concerns and my reasons for supporting this legislation so please feel free to reach out. Don't fall prey to deceiving political sound bites from Topeka lobbyists that aim to destroy our rural way of life for their own gain.
Work on the budget continues. Our first step, however, is to balance the current year's budget. It will involve spending cuts and accounting gimmicks to create a balanced budget for the current budget year. House and Senate members in Conference Committee have come to agreement on the final plan for balancing this year's budget so by the time you are reading this, that bill may already be headed to the Governor.
We will continue to work on next year's budget. There is some work being done to control spending. There is also work being done to look at the tax side of the ledger. After the governor vetoed the last tax bill (and the Legislature failed by 2 votes in the Senate to override the veto), there are various tax plans being considered. Some are income tax, some are sales or property tax. These are issues that won't likely be settled until the veto session in May.
A piece of the budget talks involves the Supreme Court ruling on school funding. The bottom line is the Legislature must put more money into schools. The House Education Committee has a draft school funding bill that moves us away from the block grants. However, I am afraid it relies too heavily on property taxes which can be the preferred funding mechanism in urban areas but harms our rural schools. More work and debate will happen before a plan emerges onto the House floor. I will keep you posted as things progress.
Thank you, as always, for your prayers and support. Please continue to send feedback and concerns.
Representative Greg Lewis