Editor's Note: The following is a report by state Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, on recent action in the Kansas Legislature. Davis was appointed to the Kansas House District 46 seat when former state Rep. Troy Findley left the position to serve as legislative liaison for Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Davis' column will be published online throughout the 2003 session of the Legislature.
The level of activity at the Statehouse has definitely picked up this week. The number of phone calls, e-mail and letters I have received this week is almost double what I received last week. Even though this creates more work for me in responding to these inquiries, I really welcome the communications from people in my district and from other places in Kansas.
On Monday evening, I had a wonderful opportunity to eat dinner with Governor Sebelius and a group of legislators at Cedar Crest. The Governor was very gracious and it was a tremendous opportunity to talk with her in a casual atmosphere. Having formerly worked for Governor Sebelius when she was Insurance Commissioner, I know her quite well, but it is still nice to have an opportunity to converse with her about some of the issues that the Legislature is tackling. What was nice about the dinner was that the Governor grouped Democrats and Republicans together. Often times, gatherings like this become partisan events. However, it was nice to get to know some of my other colleagues, Republican and Democrat, a little better.
The full House of Representatives passed Governor Sebelius' FY 2003 supplemental appropriation bill this week. We had early passed this bill by a 85-37 margin, but what we passed this week was the conference committee bill which resolved a few differences with the Senate's version. I once again voted for the bill primarily because it restored almost all of the social service cuts that were made by the Graves Administration this past fall.
By doing this, we are able to fully fund the state's current Medicaid caseload. This is significant because for every $1 we cut out of the Medicaid budget, we lose $1.50 in federal funds. I also supported the bill because it included about $26.7 million that was necessary to meet state education funding obligations, $1.3 million to fund a shortfall in the Board of Indigent Defense Services budget because of cost overruns caused by several death penalty cases (although there is still some additional funding that the Board needs to meet its obligations to court-appointed attorneys) and $4 million to keep all of the state's correctional facilities open.
There were some things in the appropriation bill that I didn't like though. Namely, the capturing of about $48 million in demand transfers to city and county governments and the borrowing of over $90 million from the State Highway Fund. These are difficult choices, but I feel that the state's first priorities must be education and social services.
The Taxation Committee is continuing its hearings on the repeal of the state's 65 sales tax exemptions. These hearings have been well attended and committee members have heard from a significant number of groups who want to protect their industry's sales tax exemption. We have asked many of these groups to specify where the State ought to find the revenue to deal with the budget shortfall since they don't want their particular sales tax exemption repealed. However, most groups have done their best to duck these questions. Our hearings will continue next week, even though the Speaker of the House has stated that he doesn't think any sales tax exemptions will be repealed this year.
Several weeks ago, I introduced a bill that would require insurance companies and health plans to cover all FDA-approved methods of contraception in their standard policies. My bill was scheduled for a hearing, along with several insurance mandate bills, yesterday in the House Insurance Committee. Unfortunately, the committee chair, Representative Patricia Lightner of Overland Park, would not allow a number of organizations who support the bill to testify before her committee. Clearly, she is adamantly opposed to the bill and doesn't want those who support the bill to be heard. Her poor treatment of the people who appeared to testify yesterday in her committee has been the talk of the Capitol.
Many lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, are very upset about the way she has abused her power as a committee chair. Although, this is my first session as a member of the Legislature, I have been around the Legislature as a lobbyist for four years. I must say that I have never seen a committee chair not allow people to testify. This is a terrible precedent. When the people of Kansas come to our Capitol to present their perspective on a piece of legislation, they have a right to be heard. I am pleased that many of my colleagues are angered and disappointed by Representative Lightner's behavior and hope that it will lead to an apology by her to the people who were not allowed to testify. We can disagree about issues at the Capitol, and do so often, but we must carry on the Kansas tradition of doing it in a civil manner.