This week the Kansas Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit over funding and pay raises for the state’s court system filed by six trial-court judges. Legislators last year approved a $149 million annual budget for the court system, but the Supreme Count is pushing for an increase of $18 million or 12%. Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued a statement to the press saying. “This court should no more decide the size of its own budget than the Legislature should decide the constitutionality of the laws it enact.”

This year’s annual Relay for Life came at a perfect time to promote the proposed Value Them Both Constitutional Amendment. The amendment was introduced in both the House and Senate last week. The rally has taken place every year since the Roe v Wade Supreme Count decision was made 47 years ago. On January 22nd, pro-life groups made their voices heard in opposition. It brought together pro-life Kansas lawmakers and groups from across the state to discuss what they can do to impact the current laws on abortion. The proposed language for a constitutional amendment protecting life was unveiled. Last year the Supreme Court found that the Kansas constitution contains a right to an abortion. This ruling made it so every reasonable abortion law that has been passed by the legislature is likely to be struck down. This will be a top priority this session.

Jeff Vogel, Kansas Department of Agriculture, briefed our Senate Agriculture Committee on the progress being made by farmers and growers in the state who have decided to produce industrial hemp. Vogel reported that the first year of the industrial hemp program’s research phase was a positive one overall, with 190 active growers in the state, 20 active distributors, 35 active processors and 9 universities participating in the program. Vogel expects the KDA to have the state’s commercial program rules and regulations prepared for submission to the U.S Department of Agriculture as early as this upcoming week. Once the rules and regulations are approved by the USDA, the state will begin accepting licensure applications for a commercial industrial hemp program, which means growers could begin planting industrial hemp as early as the 2020 growing season.

The Public Health and Welfare Committee began hearing testimony on SB 252. Those in favor of expanding Medicaid argued the bill should pass, as is, without work requirements or conscientious objections provisions. Under the Denning-Kelly plan, Kansans in the coverage gap ages 19-64 who earn up to 138% of the federal poverty level would be eligible for Medicaid, which is now only available to the elderly, children and those who are disabled and don’t have the option to work. In his testimony in favor of SB 252, Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning explained the Pathway to Work provision. The federal Affordable Care Act law prohibits any work requirement provisions that can impact enrollment up to 138% of the federal poverty level. It is known that many states are proposing a work requirement, however, right now there is not a single state that has a functioning work requirement for Medicaid eligibility. Either the work requirement has been denied by CMS, struck down by the courts, and or has been deemed to expensive by the states to implement. This is why the Senate Select Committee proposed and believed a pathway to employment was the best approach over a hard count work requirement.

It is an honor and pleasure to serve the 40th Senate District of Kansas. Please do not hesitate to contact me by e-mail at rick.billinger@senate.ks.gov or you may call me with your questions or concerns. My office number is 785 296-7399 or my cell number is 785 899-4700. If you are in Topeka, stop by my office at 236-E.