February 22, 2024

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Senator Denning, House moderates disagree over Medicaid interim committee

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The makeup of a Medicaid interim committee that will be tasked with writing expansion legislation is causing a rift between moderate House Republicans and Senate leadership. Rep. Don Hineman, a Dighton Republican, says Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning is reneging on an informal agreement made in the waning hours of the legislative session.

Hineman was one of a group of House Republicans and Democrats members who refused to pass a budget in an effort to pressure the Senate to debate Medicaid expansion. After negotiations with Senate leaders, Hineman and moderate Republicans voted for the budget. According to Hineman, they did so with assurances from Senate leadership that House members would be included in a Medicaid interim committee to draft a new expansion bill.

Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton

Instead, an interim Senate committee will be tasked with writing the legislation. 

“I believe that every House member that was in that meeting with House leadership left the meeting with the same impression,” Hineman told the Sentinel. Public radio first broke the story followed by the Topeka Capital Journal, which provided ample platform for House moderates and Democrats to bemoan the misunderstanding with limited input from Senate Republicans.

House moderates and Senate leadership discussed policy points and whether the committee would be bipartisan, according to Denning. He believes Gov. Kelly and the Democrats are now using the makeup of the interim committee to create a wedge between moderate and conservative Republicans on Medicaid policy.

“Of course I would prefer the moderates stay with the Republican caucus to work on such a big piece of legislation,” Denning said.

Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park

The timing of expansion is the only area of disagreement, according to Denning.

“The Democrats and moderate Republicans in the House wanted expansion this session. The Senate position has always been to work on a bill for next year,” Denning said.

Though Hineman fought for expansion this year, he said there are things that could improve upon the expansion legislation the House passed in March.

“Concepts that would reduce the cost and encourage individuals to stay on private insurance instead of migrating onto Medicaid, those are valid concepts we need to take a look at,” Hineman said. However, he believes a joint interim committee is the best way to accomplish that. Instead, it appears the Senate will host its own interim committee, likely chaired by Suellentrop, and draft its own bill. (A future story will detail some of Suellentrop’s plans for the interim committee.)

“The Senate will have a Medicaid expansion bill debated next year, and it will be a better product than what the House passed over to us,” Denning said.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican and chair of the House Health and Services Committee, hosted more than eight hours of roundtable discussion on expansion this session.

“Proponents and opponents were at the table, and people could say their piece,” she said. And she said, the House will look at the issue again next year. The legislative process also will allow House members to offer input on the Senate’s expansion legislation. Typically, a House committee holds hearings on proposals, before forwarding legislation to the full body. Once on the House floor, House members have the opportunity to offer amendments and make changes, before forwarding legislation to the Senate, where the process begins anew. Then both bodies negotiate the differences in a conference committee before final passage.

That’s not the process House members used to pass Medicaid expansion this session. Instead, they used a gut-and-go, a legislative procedure in which one bill is stripped of its contents and replaced with something else entirely. Expansion passed the House, 69-54, but never made it to the Senate floor for debate. Hineman partnered with moderate Republicans and Democrats in the House to try to force the Senate’s hand, but the coalition didn’t hold.

“The moderate Republicans did the right thing moving the budget along and closing down the session,” Denning said. “…The Democrats wanted to hold the budget hostage and put school financing in a bad light with the Supreme Court with oral arguments held on May 9. The Governor’s budget was passed by Republicans who chose to govern rather than grandstand with Gov. Kelly.”

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