Housing issues, Medicaid expansion are among top priorities for Lawrence’s Statehouse delegation as legislative session nears

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

The Lawrence chamber of commerce's vice-president of external affairs, Hugh Carter, is pictured at left at the beginning of the legislative priorities breakfast Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. A number of state legislators are pictured to Carter's right: state Sens. Marci Francisco, Tom Holland and Rick Kloos and state Reps. Christina Haswood, Barbara Ballard, Mike Amyx and Dennis “Boog” Highberger.

With the 2023 legislative session just around the corner, community leaders had a chance on Friday to address Lawrence-area legislators and advocate for their priorities, with housing and Medicaid expansion high on the list.

The session starts on Monday, and representatives with Lawrence and Douglas County’s governments, the Lawrence school district and the University of Kansas attended the Lawrence chamber of commerce’s legislative priorities breakfast Friday morning, each armed with a wish list for area lawmakers, who included State Sens. Marci Francisco, Tom Holland and Rick Kloos and State Reps. Christina Haswood, Barbara Ballard, Mike Amyx and Dennis “Boog” Highberger, who will soon join their fellow lawmakers for a monthslong session in Topeka.

By the end of the breakfast, attendees homed in on some mutual priority areas, most notably housing issues and Medicaid expansion. In fact, every group present besides those focused on education mentioned the affordable housing crisis and the need for expanded health care coverage via Kansas’ Medicaid program, as did multiple lawmakers.

On the housing front, specific asks related to tackling homelessness and housing affordability. The Chamber, for example, lists extending the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance program, known as KERA, as one of its priorities. KERA, funded with federal pandemic-relief dollars, helps Kansans who are at risk of losing their housing.

Douglas County’s list calls for measures to prevent source-of-income discrimination, to establish incentives for landlords to cooperate in that endeavor and to give tenants the right to counsel.

“Douglas County continues to experience high rates of housing instability and homelessness, disproportionately impacting women and young children, community members of color, seniors and individuals with physical and behavioral health disabilities and needs,” Douglas County Commissioner Shannon Reid said during her remarks on behalf of the county.

As for Medicaid, Kansas is one of 11 states that have yet to expand eligibility for the low-income public health insurance program, but not for lack of trying. There have been a number of attempts during recent legislative sessions to adopt Medicaid expansion, but they’ve all fallen short.

During the 2017 session, for example, both chambers of the Legislature passed a Medicaid expansion bill, but then-Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed it. The last time the Legislature made a concerted attempt at expanding Medicaid in 2020, a bipartisan proposal gained early traction but ultimately was punted to the 2021 session, and attempts in the past two sessions to pass such legislation have similarly failed even earlier in the process despite widespread public support.

Some speakers also mentioned the continued expansion of Kansas Highway 10 — also referred to as the South Lawrence Trafficway as it passes through Lawrence — as another priority.

Other priorities ranged from a request from KU for another funding increase for the state’s university system to a number of specific economic development asks from the Chamber.

Highberger said medical marijuana would be a priority for him, while Haswood cited the environment, abortion rights and reproductive care.

Amyx mentioned the multibillion-dollar Panasonic battery plant coming to nearby De Soto as an important factor to consider as lawmakers discuss infrastructure improvements.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Kansas Rep. Christina Haswood, second from left, talks about her priorities for the upcoming 2023 legislative session. At left is Kansas Sen. Marci Francisco. Rep. Mike Amyx and Sen. Tom Holland are at right.

Regardless of how much traction these priorities end up getting, elected officials assured attendees Friday that their concerns weren’t going unheard.

“… We do hear every time that you make requests, and the partnerships that we develop make sure that you are able to carry out your part in government,” Amyx told attendees. “This is so important, because our responsibility is to the citizens we provide services for.”


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