By CRISTINA JANNEY
As the 2020 legislative session rapidly approaches, local legislators say health care and mental health will be two of the top issues.
State Sen. Rick Billinger, R-Goodland, said one of his top priorities is getting acute care juvenile psychiatric beds reinstated at the KVC Hospital in Hays.
KVC announced in fall of last year it was closing its acute care beds in Hays because of Centers for Medicaid and Medicare regulations and issues with the space it rents at the Hadley Center.
This means the nearest acute care psychiatric treatment for youth is in Wichita or Kansas City, and even Wichita has been full, Billinger said.
"Some of the folks from western Kansas have chosen not to get their youth any help because it is not a good option for them to go to Kansas City," Billinger said. "Consequently some of them are just taking these kids home."
Billinger said he has not been satisfied with KVC's explanation for the closure, saying similar rules were in place when KVC was awarded the state contract for the acute care beds 10 years ago.
"For many folks in the western part of Kansas, traveling to Wichita or Kansas City is not an option," Billinger said. "These parents need to be involved in the therapy sessions. Most of them are working and have jobs. It's just a crisis for those folks."
Officials at KVC said they planned to convert the acute-care beds to residential treatment beds.
Both Sen. Billinger and state Rep. Barb Wasinger, R-Hays, said they expect Medicaid expansion to be debated again this year.
Gov. Kelly has said she is behind Medicaid expansion. Both houses of the Legislature passed bills to expand Medicaid while Gov. Brownback was in office. Brownback vetoed the bill, and the Legislature was unable to override the veto.
Billinger was one of the legislators who has been a past supporter of the Medicaid expansion. He said he thought expansion is important to Kansas' rural hospitals.
"I hope we can put some policy in there that will make it better for the people on the expansion of Medicaid, but also the taxpayers," he said.
Rep. Wasinger said she also supports Medicaid expansion.
"I believe with what they are proposing, I need to support Medicaid expansion because it is important to my constituents in Ellis County along with HaysMed," she said. "I am concerned about the cost. I know we need to take great care with that and not bankrupt the state."
Wasinger also said the issue of autonomy for Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners will likely be a topic of debate. ARNPs must work under the supervision of physicians, who often take a portion of their fees. ARNPs wish to be able to practice without this supervision.
Wasinger said she supports ARNP autonomy and hoped this would be a means to expand health care options for northwest Kansas.
She said she would also support a constitutional amendment that would reinstate abortion regulations.
" I am very interested in it because there are no regulations," Wasinger said. "I think it is a safety issue for women. It think we should protect the women of our state no matter what they decide to do."
There will likely be the usual battles over the budget. A group of Kansas judges sued the Legislature claiming their courts are being underfunded.
Pay for Kansas judges ranks 49 out of 50 states, with West Virginia the only state below Kansas.
Billinger said the Legislature has been trying to put more money into courts, but filing a lawsuit was the wrong way to address the issue.
"We only have so much money to spend, and we are trying to address all of the challenges, including the courts. I'm not saying the courts don't need the additional funding, especially for some of the staff. ...
"We have a lot of challenges," Billinger said of the budget. "We still have foster kids who sleep on the floors. We need to look at and repair a lot of these things."
Wasinger said she did not wish to comment on the court lawsuit.
She did say she was also concerned about the state of Kansas' foster care system.
"We have incredible foster care parents in Hays, and the fact they have not gotten calls and we still have children sleeping in offices is a sin," she said. "It is so scary."
Budget and KPERS
Neither legislator supported Gov. Kelly's plan to reamortize KPERS in 2020 to stretch the budget. An attempt to delay payments to KPERS last session was not supported by the Legislature. The proposed reamortization last year would have cost the state $7 billion.
Last year was the first time in 25 years the state has made the full required contribution to KPERS.
"She has decided she wants to fund the state government on the backs of our KPERS folks — our school teachers and our state workers," Billinger said. "I don't believe that is going to fly."
Wasinger said, "I think a stable budget is a much wiser policy than adding interest to our debt."
Billinger said he would like to see the state decouple state income taxes from federal income taxes. When the federal government increased the standard deduction on income taxes, it meant some Kansans could no longer itemize on their state taxes.
The governor vetoed two attempts to decouple during the last session.
"Part of the argument will be 'Here you are trying to cut taxes for the rich,' " he said. "Well, no, these folks are not what I call the rich. Folks that have a lot — they already have more than $24,000 in deductions. They have always itemized and they will continue to itemize."
Wasinger said she did not want to increase taxes.
"I think we need to get our budget under control," she said.
Billinger and Wasigner both said they thought there might be another attempt to decrease sales tax on food. Both legislators said they would support legislation to that end.
Kansas has one of the highest food sales taxes in the country. Colorado and Nebraska both have no food sales tax, which makes it difficult for grocery stores near the borders to compete, Billinger said.
Billinger is co-sponsoring legislation to increase funding to the University of Kansas Cancer Center. The hope is the increased funding would put KU on par with cancer centers like the Mayo Clinic and MD Anderson in Texas.
Billinger also serves on the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee. During a meeting of the committee this summer, concerns were expressed about the removal by the courts of the economic cap on lawsuits. The concern is this will cause insurance rates for doctors and professionals to increase.
The Legislature is set to be back in session Monday. Gov. Kelly will deliver her State of the State Address at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15.