Kansas House candidates call for Medicaid expansion, differ on need to overhaul Department for Children and Families

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Candidates for two local Kansas House races shared views on issues they would face if elected at a forum Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018 at Lawrence City Hall. From the left, the candidates are Jim Karleskint, Republican incumbent in the 42nd House District; his Democratic opponent Thea Perry; Democratic candidate in the 45th District Mike Amyx; and his Republican opponent Cynthia Smith.

There was unanimous agreement on the need to expand Medicaid in the state at a Sunday forum for the two contested races for Douglas County-area Kansas House seats.

Candidates to represent the 45th District of extreme west Lawrence, Lecompton and western rural areas of the county, and the 42nd District, which includes Eudora, Tonganoxie and other sections of southwest Leavenworth County, participated in a 90-minute Voter Education Coalition forum on Sunday at Lawrence City Hall.

Vying for the 45th District seat Republican Tom Sloan has held for the past 12 terms are Democrat Mike Amyx — a local businessman and a former Lawrence mayor and Douglas County Commissioner — and Republican Cynthia Smith, an attorney who has represented Kansas City Power & Light and has worked for a number of child welfare agencies. In the 42nd District, first-term incumbent Republican Jim Karleskint, of Tonganoxie, a former teacher and school administrator, is being challenged by Democrat Thea Perry, a rural Leavenworth County resident who became active in a number of education organizations while fighting for additional K-12 spending.

In response to a question on the state’s need to support mental health, all four candidates agreed that expanding Medicaid under provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act would benefit local efforts in that scope, as well as help ensure the survival of small health clinics and hospitals in the state. Karleskint said he voted in 2017 for a bill to expand Medicaid that passed the House and Senate, only to have then-Gov. Sam Brownback veto the measure. He voted against a bill to expand Medicaid in the 2018 session because it had made it to the House floor as a “gut-and-go” measure that replaces the language of a bill under consideration with new provisions not discussed in committee, he said.

Voter registration deadline nears

Voter registration for the 2018 general election will end Monday, Oct. 16.

County residents can register at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., and at the various city halls in the county.

Advance voting for the election will start Tuesday, Oct. 17, and continue until noon Monday, Nov. 5.

The general election will be Tuesday, Nov. 6.

“I didn’t consider that an appropriate process for that legislation,” he said.

Perry criticized him for that decision. Kansans lose out, since they have sent $2.7 billion to the federal government for Medicaid programming since the ACA became law — money that is benefiting other states that have expanded Medicaid, she said.

Amyx, a board member of Lawrence Memorial Hospital, gave an example of how expanded Medicaid helps local hospitals.

“With expanded Medicaid, we have about 9,900 people in our (LMH) service area who could be allowed service,” he said. “That’s real dollars for our hospital.”

Although she also supported expanded Medicaid, Smith called Amyx a tax-and-spend candidate who was part of a City Commission that allowed developers to swindle Lawrence taxpayers. She vowed to look for ways to find efficiencies in current state programs to save taxpayer dollars and scrutinize new legislation for wasteful spending. She said she would also support ending the sales tax on food purchases, and she claimed Amyx had expressed caution about ending the tax because the revenue might be needed.

“It’s ludicrous we have a sales tax on food of almost 10 percent,” she said. “That’s crazy high.”

Amyx didn’t directly respond to Smith’s comments. During his opening remarks, he said he developed a lot of contacts throughout the district from his years in local government. His background in local government and on such issues as education, vocational workforce development and infrastructure made him confident he could be a successful legislator, he said. One thing he would press for in Topeka was the expansion of the Kansas Highway 10 west leg from two to four lanes, with the appropriate changes to existing interchanges, he said.

“We need to protect Farmer’s Turnpike and make sure they don’t change any part of that,” he said.

The Democrats and Republicans differed on what needed to be done to address problems in the Kansas Department for Children and Families. With a report that some DCF caseworkers have as many as 51 open cases, all the candidates agreed that more qualified social workers had to be hired. Although Karleskint and Smith said they were confident new DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel could correct problems, Amyx and Perry said the department’s problems, including those with the foster care program it oversees, called for a complete departmental overhaul.

“Seven children have been murdered while wards of the state,” Perry said. “We are failing our most vulnerable children. We need to hire more trained professionals, and whistleblowers need to be protected.”

Perry also was critical of Karleskint’s vote in 2018 for the Kansas Adoption Protection Act, which gives legal protection to Kansas faith-based adoption agencies that refuse to place children in the homes of people who violate the agencies’ religious beliefs. Perry said the bill discriminated against the LGBTQ community, and that it was so broad it could potentially allow agencies to refuse to place children in the homes of Jews, Muslims, single parents or people of color.

“The day my opponent voted to legalize discrimination in Kansas was the day I decided to run for this office,” she said.

The bill did not change Kansas adoption policies, but protected against a future executive order stating that faith-based organizations could no longer arrange adoptions, Karleskint said.

“It has no effect on adoption one way or the other, right now,” he said. “I didn’t want to eliminate agencies from being involved in adoption.”

A scheduled informational presentation on the countywide referendum on a half-cent sales tax and the behavioral health campus it will fund was canceled when Bob Tryanski, Douglas County director of behavioral health projects, was unable to attend the forum.

Tryanski is scheduled to present Wednesday to the Douglas County Commission new plans for the campus and associated services. His report will explain how plans for a behavioral health crisis center and related services will be scaled back to fit the $4.9 million the half-cent sales tax will provide annually. That is about $800,000 less than previous plans — developed for Proposition 1, which county voters rejected in May — would have provided annually for the campus and services.

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