It's probably a safe bet that Kansas won't join Colorado and Washington state in legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, at least not anytime soon. But a Senate committee will consider a bill this week that would reduce the penalties for first and second time possession. And it would take baby steps in the direction of allowing certain medical uses of a cannabis derivative.
House Bill 2049 passed the House in May last year, 81-36. But it came so late in the session that the Senate ran out of time to consider it, and so held it over until the 2016 session.
The bill would do three things: reclassify first and second possession offenses as misdemeanors instead of felonies; authorize the Kansas Department of Agriculture to conduct research into industrial hemp production; and allow the use of hemp oil as a treatment for certain kinds of seizure disorders.
The hemp oil provision was added as an amendment during floor debate in the House last year by Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence.
Hemp oil is derived from the seed of the plant and does not contain THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana. But some studies have shown that it can reduce the frequency and severity of seizures in people with epilepsy.
A fiscal analysis conducted last year estimated that passage of the bill would eventually reduce the state's prison population by 75 beds, saving the state a little more than $1 million a year.
The Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee has scheduled hearings on the bill Wednesday and Thursday this week.
Issues around K-12 education in Kansas will be the topic of discussion in multiple hearings this week, starting bright and early Tuesday morning when the special K12 Student Success Committee meets to finalize its report to the full Legislature.
That's the panel established last year when lawmakers repealed the old per-pupil funding formula and replaced it for two years with a system of block grants. Although it wasn't charged with devising a new formula, it was told to begin laying the groundwork for a new funding mechanism to be based on student outcomes, rather than a cost-driven formula, in line with a 2014 ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court.
Rep. Ron Highland, R-Wamego, offered his own version of a draft report earlier this month. But the panel tabled that document and sent it to the Legislative Research Department for redrafting.
Still, it is widely expected that the final draft will contain many of the same recommendations, including taking a whole new look at the annual state assessments in reading and math; overhauling the way the state provides extra funding for students "at risk" of failing or dropping out; and putting tighter controls on the ability of local school districts to issue bonds, the repayments of which are partially subsidized by the state.
Later in the day, Education Commissioner Randy Watson will give a briefing on the Department of Education's new "vision" for public education in Kansas. Speaking to the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee, he will likely focus on things that business and industry leaders said were important during a series of town hall meetings last year — namely, more focus on "soft skills" such as work habits, teamwork, communication and interpersonal skills.
Meanwhile, the House Education Budget Committee has scheduled three days of meetings this week, Tuesday through Thursday, although agendas for those meetings were not yet available Monday afternoon.
That panel serves as a kind of subcommittee for the full House Appropriations panel. Its main job is to recommend funding levels for both K-12 and higher education.
KanCare and state hospitals
Officials from Lawrence Memorial Hospital will be back before the KanCare Oversight Committee on Friday, presumably with claims and billing information to support their allegation that the three private companies now in charge of managing the state's Medicaid program have been systematically denying legitimate claims and making the appeals process unnecessarily cumbersome.
LMH lodged those complaints in December, although all three KanCare contractors denied engaging in such practices.
In other health care-related issues, conditions at Osawatomie State Hospital will be the subject of a joint meeting Thursday of the House and Senate health committees where Tim Keck, interim secretary of the Department for Aging and Disability Services, will provide an update.
The psychiatric hospital in Miami County lost its certification to receive Medicare funding last year after auditors from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cited it for "systemic failure to supervise the provision of care, to perform required safety checks and to protect suicidal patients from hanging risks," which "placed all patients receiving services at risk for harm."
Tuesday marks the start of the second week of the 2016 session, a week that was shortened due to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday on Monday.
Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday announced that federal officials have approved a waiver request to implement sweeping changes to the Kansas Medicaid system.
Kansas has already awarded three contracts to managed care organizations to run the Medicaid program, which provides health care coverage to 380,000 poor and disabled residents.
Known as KanCare, the Brownback administration has said the changes will help control care costs and improve care.
The new system will be in effect Jan. 1.
In a split vote along party lines, a legislative committee on Thursday rejected pleas from advocates for the elderly and those with disabilities for a delay in implementation of Gov. Sam Brownback's plan to privatize the Medicaid program, which serves nearly 400,000 Kansans.
State Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, sought to delay the proposed Jan.1 startup of KanCare by six months to July 1. "I'm still not convinced that they are ready," Ballard said.
But Republicans on the committee said the state has devoted a lot of time and effort to starting KanCare on Jan. 1 and pushing that back would cause confusion.
"To move that date now would be very inappropriate," said state Rep. David Crum, R-Augusta, who is chairman of the House-Senate Committee on Home and Community Based Services.
Ballard's motion to delay implementation failed 2-3. Joining Ballard was state Rep. Jerry Henry, D-Cummings. Voting against Ballard's motion were Crum, state Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, and state Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia.
Under KanCare, the state's current Medicaid system will be switched over to three managed care plans run by private insurance companies. Medicaid is a nearly $3 billion per year state and federally funded program that provides health care to poor and disabled Kansans. The changes must be approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services before it can be implemented, and the Brownback administration has been shooting for Jan. 1 approval.
Earlier Thursday, advocates for those with disabilities, children and the elderly said that the switchover in 54 days was too fast.
"We believe such an aggressive timeline, with little oversight, for an untested system will place many of the state's frailest and most vulnerable residents into a long-term managed care program that we believe the state is not ready to operate," said David Wilson, the immediate past president and current lead volunteer for AARP Kansas.
Tom Laing, executive director of InterHab, which advocates for those with disabilities, said "We are deeply concerned over the evident lack of preparations to oversee a program of such magnitude."
But Kari Bruffett, director of the Health Care Finance Division of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said the state was on track.
Bruffett said state officials had "positive and productive meetings with CMS officials" on Oct. 18.
And she said the managed care organizations were ready to deliver Medicaid services.
The Brownback administration has said KanCare will improve health outcomes while saving the state money.