Welcome to the Kansas reflector. I'm Reporter Tim carpenter. It's no exaggeration that children often take center stage in the political sense during the annual session of the Kansas legislature. All sorts of organizations play a role in developing state laws touching the lives of kids, including the nonprofit Kansas action for children. A trio of K AC specialists are with us to delve into legislation applicable to the welfare education and health of children living in Kansas. They include KC education policy adviser Daniel Clawson, food security consultant, Aaron mountain, and health policy adviser Heather Brown. Welcome to you each. Thanks for having us. Thanks for being here. We appreciate your time, because these are important issues. So first, let's go around the table. And we're going to sort of the lightning round question. And you guys follow legislative session a lot. So So what is what is kind of your quick take on on the 2023 legislative session? We can start with you, Heather.
Sure, there was a lot of defensive work that we had to do across a lot of different areas. And you'll be hearing about that throughout this whole podcast. But you know, we had started out hopeful the session back clear back in January, which seems like it's you know, about 10 years ago now, that a few of our priorities would make it through the process like permanently fixing, long standing issue with the children's health insurance program eligibility, or increasing the newborn screening cap. But what we found throughout session as we had to defend again and again, against changes to child care safety standards, making food assistance, harder to access in dangerous changes to vaccine and public health policy, we saw lawmakers tend to focus on issues that aren't affecting everyday Kansans instead of elevating policies that we know will help families across, you know, access health care, have enough food to eat for every meal and keep their bills paid.
All right. Yes. And that consumed like 90 Days of Our Lives, you know, you're playing defense, but plenty of people playing offense. Daniel, what's your take,
are lots of continued attacks on public education teachers, and the way public schools are funded. With us with an especially high focus on special education funding that really consumed large amounts of the legislators time, as we really progress throughout the session and privatization of public dollars for schools was just huge this year, a
lot of false starts in terms of education, policy and funding, I'd say. And, Aaron, your if you could dance on the grave of the 2023 session, what do you think?
Well, I think Heather and Daniel both summed it up really? Well. I'll just reiterate that it was a bit disappointing to have to focus so much on defensive work, when there were chances that good proactive policies could have been enacted, there was a bill House Bill 2032, that would have gotten rid of Kansas is really harmful and punitive, modified ban on people with drug related felonies for the Food Assistance Program, it had bipartisan support last year and this year, but unfortunately, it never even saw a hearing in committee.
Yeah, there's there's a lot of good ideas that die on the vine, and it's sometimes mysterious as to why support for things vaporize, it could come down to the interest of one individual or one organization. So let's, I know can sexual children covers and follows a lot of subjects. But let's talk about child care regulation. Daniel, I think we're gonna turn to you first. And the idea was there's a labor shortage in terms of childcare facilities. And there's high demand, but how do we deal with that problem? And the legislature took the tack of perhaps a lessening regulation of these types of facilities, correct?
Absolutely. Tim, as we went through this process, we heard several times that the bill that was being drafted wasn't going to be put out there wasn't going to be heard, because the lawmakers behind it believed that they needed some more information. And in the end, when it came down to it, this bill, deregulated the childcare industry in a pretty massive way. While we know that regulations need to be adjusted and need to be maintained among current standards, we know that we need to reregulate the industry not deregulate the industry because the primary purpose of regulations is to keep children safe. And when you are messing with regulations to increase workforce to boost the economy, as we heard several times, that really makes you wonder, what's the most important thing the economy keeping moving or children safety?
So let's touch on just just pull a couple of threads out of some of that legislation. I think one of them was lowering the educational requirements of people who perform these responsibilities looking after kid
Yeah, of course, education requirements were lowered and The yearly training requirements to maintain licensure were cut from 16 hours, originally to eight hours, the final draft of the bill brought it back up to 1216 Doesn't sound like a lot, anyone write 16 doesn't sound like much at all, when you consider the massive amounts of care these individuals have to do with food with learning environments and things of that nature to help kids develop during this critical stage. Also, it really tore up ratios a lot, it would have put us way out of compliance with other states in our area.
And what you mean by that is one adult per X number. Yes, it.
So currently we have an infant ratio of one to three, this would change that ratio from one to three to one to four, which doesn't sound like a big change. However, it also adjusts the age range of an infant. Currently, it's zero to 18 months, this would drop it to zero to 12 months. So in effect, it could double the ratio of infants in care.
Was there also an element that would reduce the age that people could work in these facilities?
Yes, there were some age requirements down to 14 years of age kids looking after kids. Right, exactly. That eventually was softened in the final version of the bill. However, still, the thought process behind it is there that we don't have enough workers. So let's lower the ages required. So Bill passed, the bill did pass, the Governor vetoed it. And they brought it back up in the last week of session, and the house fell three votes short.
So in a veto override, Governor Kelly vetoed a lot of legislation this year, the house needs a two thirds majority to override and then the Senate needs to do likewise. And so the hiccup here was that they fell a few votes shy in the house of overriding Governor Kelly's veto on this bill. So what do we think is next you think the legislature is not through trying to deal with this issue? Right,
right. We're hopeful that work that's in progress can be finished over the interim, and that can hopefully pacify some of this legislative action that really would harm regulations. As you know, way back in January, the governor's first executive order of her second term, was to create a transition Task Force for early light learning early childhood to create hopefully a state agency that's in charge of all the early childhood and early education policies in the state. Rather than pulling from the Department of Education and Health and Environment and DCF. Good idea, right, we're keeping a very close eye on that we feel like that would streamline things for families and providers as they work through this system. Additionally, there's talk of an interim committee to study child care, which we will monitor very closely and hope to be a resource to any lawmakers who move in that direction. And Katie, he is working on a vast regulatory revision. They're taking all of their child care regulations, and good hard luck and rewriting several of them hopefully, in the next month or so that can then go through the regulatory process. And we can have some real meaningful changes that will impact the child care crisis,
but more thoughtful re engineering of regulations. Yeah, absolutely. One other quick thing before we move on. So so this was a regulatory approach to the shortage, what what would be a better approach and your view really is
better primary approach that we think needs to happen is the compensation needs to be addressed. Right now, parents can't afford to pay more, and providers can't afford to make less. When it comes to child care, the average or median wage of a childcare provider in Kansas is $10.90 an hour, which is do better in McDonald's. Yeah, you can do better anywhere, plus, you're gonna get benefits in those other locations to which childcare oftentimes doesn't have it. So looking at models from other states, or ways that businesses can partner and the state and local governments can bring some subsidize subsidy into those care options, so that providers can really make a meaningful living doing this critical work for our state.
Aaron, you work in a food policy realm. And I think one of the bills that caught some attention in the State House was that Kansas would include people over the age of 50, maybe under 60, in a requirement that they engage in work or workforce training to be eligible for food assistance. So give us a background and some of the nuggets of that.
Sure. So the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, which is called food assistance in Kansas, is a program that allows households or individuals with 130% or less of the federal poverty line of their income to receive benefits that they can purchase groceries with. So the average benefit amount for food assistance in 2023 is only about $2 per person per meal. So this is not a lot of money. You can only spend it on food at eligible retailers. And there are a lot of mistakes. options about the program when it's allowed to work as designed. It's a really effective anti poverty and workforce development program, it helps people transition into higher paying jobs or into jobs. Another thing is that the people that this bill, which was House Bill 2140, would have affected already had work requirements, they already have to be working at least 30 hours a week or be looking for work, they cannot voluntarily go below 30 hours a week. So the rhetoric around this bill, I think, was misleading because it didn't create a work requirement, it just imposed a really inflexible approach to work for these 50 to 59 year olds who don't have dependents and who are living on very low incomes. So what this would have done, what this will do, since it was passed, will require people who are in that age range and don't have dependents, when they apply for food assistance. If they're not working at least 30 hours a week, they have to be assigned to an Employment and Training program, even if they don't need it. And the the Employment and Training program was already available to these people voluntarily. So the people who need help, you know, writing a resume or finding a job or getting some training to get higher paying jobs, they already could do that. This bill makes that inflexible forces people into it, and will stretch out the capacity of the people running those employment and training programs. So instead of focusing on the people who want and need that training, they'll have to be focusing on people who maybe are working 25 hours a week and know that they just need to, you know, go to their boss and ask for more hours. But instead, they're going to be having to spend five hours a week on this Employment and Training.
Aaron, the governor, Governor Kelly veto this bill to this one did receive the two thirds majorities in the House, the Senate and so her veto was overridden. What was this general reason legislators felt comfortable passing this bill, what was their argument?
Sure, I think there was some false rhetoric spreading again about workforce development, that this would help fill jobs. But again, a lot of these people that would be affected are already working. I'll also say a similar bill passed last year that impose the same requirement for 18 to 49 year olds without dependents. And since that bill was implemented in the fall, over 200 people have been sanctioned off of food assistance, that doesn't mean that they no longer qualify income wise, it just means that they couldn't meet this really inflexible requirement. And so this bill is not helping people find jobs, what it's doing is, is kicking people off who should still be eligible.
Kansas has like a decade of history of trying to streamline eligibility, streamline is maybe too polite. Restrict eligibility to force people off of these will, welfare rules, whatever you want to call them. So Kansas, I mean, reading a couple 100 people off, let's let's think about the logistics of enforcing a law. Somebody's got to count this. Somebody's got a report about who's eligible who isn't. We cut 200 people off. Do you think the cost of managing a such a law is greater than the value of the food that these people would have received? I mean, is that even possible?
Yes, absolutely. And to your prior pointing, Kansas is already one of the most restrictive states in the country when it comes to the SNAP program. In 2019, which is the most recent year this was calculated, the USDA ranked snap or ranked Kansas 48th in the snap access index, which basically means it's one of the worst states to for eligible people to be able to access the program. So there are already a lot of barriers to entry. And this SNAP benefits themselves are federal federal monies that we don't get back otherwise, if if people don't get them. So it's not like we are, quote, saving the money when people aren't receiving SNAP. And we know that the Employment and Training program specifically is really expensive to implement. And those administrative costs, we split with the federal government 5050. So we are expanding the state's spending on this program only to help fewer people.
I makes me want to chuckle about the irony of all that, but it's really not very funny. The there was another bill 2141 I think was the House bill number. And it involved a noncustodial and custodial parents, in terms of child support just a bit on that.
Sure. So Kansas already requires custodial parents to, quote cooperate with child support in order to receive food assistance. And Casey and several other of our partners have been trying to get rid of that requirement for a few years now because evidence shows that it does not increase child support payments. What instead does is turn people away from the program, who may for whatever reason have informal child support arrangements or who may fear getting in touch Without non custodial parents, due to past instances of sexual or domestic violence, House Bill 2141 would have also required noncustodial parents to, quote cooperate with child support in order to receive food assistance. And as the bill was written, this would mean that they have to help establish paternity, they have to enroll in a formal support order, and they have to be up to date with their child support payments. And what Casey and other organizations feared is that this would basically punish parents who are on in hard times financially, by making it harder for them to afford the food that they need to go find better paying work. And if someone's grocery budget is impacted, they're going to be even less likely to be able to support their children in every way that they could. And luckily, the Senate was sort of the backstop for this bill, and it ended up failing on the Senate floor. After some explanations of no votes by some impassioned senators, a few people change their votes to no realizing that making it harder for parents to eat is not going to make it easier for kids to eat.
Right? It's very destabilizing for families. However, let's move on to vaccinations. And since the rise of COVID, couple of years ago, the whole conversation about vaccination mandates has really taken center stage, just an extraordinary result of of that pandemic. And the legislature has climbed into this issue in many different ways. But there was sort of a package bill that was put forward. Do you want to try to get into that for us?
Sure. And I'm actually going to back up and say this actually in Kansas predates the pandemic. We are now in our fourth session of seeing bills introduced that would impact childhood vaccinations
were the actual COVID Yes, came to Kansas, there was a rising movement. Yes. of anti vaxxers.
Yes, this is this is pre COVID in Kansas anyway. So um, you know, throughout session from the get go, we saw multiple bills introduced in lots of different directions, that would impact you know, childhood vaccinations, even businesses, colleges, and also public health standards for local health departments and the state and, you know, trying to, every time I tried to explain this, I tried to for how to walk people through this because we saw it multiple times, you know, we thought, you know, okay, the committee is done with this bill, it's not going to come back and it came back. And so I'm just I guess the best way to explain this is, throughout this session, the Senate twice passed two different bills targeting public health outbreak procedures. So they, those bills would make quarantines recommendations, not requirements. And if you know anything about infectious diseases, the way to stop infectious disease outbreaks is through quarantine. The best example I can give us measles, which is extremely harmful to young children when they're exposed to measles. And there actually is a very recent instance where quarantine stopped a measles outbreak in the state of Ohio last fall. And so if Kansas had, you know, if this legislation had become law, we may not have been able to stop measles outbreaks. And those are extremely harmful to young children and result in a lot of hospitals.
I know there's a lot of moving parts to this bill. But as you say, one of the issues was trying to undercut the authority of State and County Public Health Officers. Yes. And right now, these public health officers can issue mandates in terms of the ideas, historically, at least, they could limit mass gatherings or require people to quarantine as you said. But the idea of some of the political movement here is to get the state away from that to make these things, these orders coming from these health officers to be recommendations. As if people will just look at those recommendation pills. Yeah. Now, since it's not an order and not a requirement, I'm going to do it. And I have trouble believing that people will comply. who object to this? They'll just comply because it's not a government mandate. And I just get the weird feeling that there's some political people who think there are necessary losses in a pandemic because individual liberties trump the public good.
Tim, you took some words out of my mouth to be quite honest. I wish I could believe my neighbors would choose to do the right thing when they are recommended to stay home during a disease outbreak because they've been exposed but we saw this with COVID. That didn't happen. And the thing is these these infectious diseases that would be impacted by so Under the proposed legislation, are harmful or even deadly to young children, to infants. And I get emotional when I talk about it because it's not easy to sit here and say, decisions made by the legislature will kill children. But we know historically what measles did to children and what polio did to children, and rubella and mumps, and all of these diseases that we have found ways to stop over the decades. And if you are not able to quarantine against these diseases, and then you move into what, you know, some of the other conversations that happen this session on other legislation, which is let's make it easier for parents to opt out from vaccinations that are required for child care. Let's make it you know, so COVID, the COVID vaccine could never be required. The State Health Department has said they will never require it at this time, just like they don't require the flu vaccine, even though that's recommended for children. But
there's there's other vaccines that are required. Yes. Children entering school and or childcare. Yes, I
rattled off several of them.
So this is part of the idea was to roll that back. Yes. Yes. Make Science of this suggests that would be a mistake. Yes. Because the science says vaccines work.
Yeah. What do you think? Why do you think there's people out there that just insist and devote themselves to the idea that vaccines don't work? Do you think there's some very small percentage of people that it causes health complications, and this greater societal good doesn't justify an individual here and there getting sick?
Tim, that is a question that anyone who works on vaccine policy continues to try to figure out the answer to I don't know if it's misinformation. I don't know if it's, I really, you know, I don't have an answer for what the cause is right now. I wish I did, because I think that we could find that solution. What I do know, is we do have a poll that was run in Kansas, last year, early in 2022, that showed 95% of Kansans think vaccines work and are safe, and that they need to be there for our state. And so that's a huge number. And so from our understanding, it is a small group, a small bit loud group pushing these changes. And we are concerned that you know, I work a lot with the immunized Kansas coalition to, you know, help educate Kansans about why vaccines matter, and why why they work. I think, you know, something that gets talked about a lot is that vaccines are almost a victim of their own success. We have several generations now who have been vaccinated against all these different diseases. I think, you know, at least three of us at this table. You know, we we came in under, you know, required vaccinations for school and for child care. And so we have not experienced
well know what it's like to have four of our friends have polio, right? Have
the swimming pool shut down for the summer, because there's a polio outbreak in the community. We haven't experienced that for several generations. But, you know, we're seeing with measles, it's starting to come back in pockets.
All right, Daniel, we're gonna shift gears again. And there's a there's a whole body of legislation during this session that dealt with transgender individuals, children and adults. And we're going to it's very broad topic, but there's two parts that I think have application to Kansas action for children. And one is a bill that would ban transgender girls and women from participating in school sports. And that is that is law, correct?
Yes, the legislature was able to override Governor Kelly's veto. I believe this was the third or fourth year in a row, they had the same legislation, and they finally got it through.
And what would be the ramifications for a trans girl who wants to be a cheerleader or some, you know, what are their mental health issues?
Absolutely, there are mental health issues that are studies and data that show that transgender children LGBTQ children are some of the at the highest risk of suicide at the highest risk of self harm. And legislation like this is really only going to increase that risk, only going to increase their feelings of being alone, of being outcast, and not belonging. And at Kansas action for children, we really believe that every child, regardless of any characteristic should be able to participate in the way that they see best on the team that they feel they most belong. And this bill really takes away that opportunity from transgender individuals. Something that Representative Stockdale was very fond of pointing out through all the debate around this bill, is that there are very, very few transgender children in Kansas who are participating through Keisha And that's the
state high school activities association that supervises sports and extracurricular activities,
right, the number was high single digits, low double digits, somewhere around 11, I believe. And there were no issues of complaints or things of that nature.
Typically, you would have local school districts taking care of this issue in a local way in a way that conforms to their their community norms. Now we have a state law. And so what we have is a state law that applies to 500,000 kids, but really targets less than 10. Yes, that's correct. Do you think there's ever problems that are that occur when we we try to adopt legislation that applies to say, 3 million Kansans? Because somebody's legislators neighbor leaned over the backyard fence and complained about a tax policy.
Yeah, legislation passed around one or two individual circumstances, especially if their circumstances from outside of the state is not really going to be successful and not going to be in the best interest
of Kenya, my experience, been around the legislature for 30 years or so, you legislate by anecdote, and you will burn for it. So we'll see what happens here. I think there's some price in public schools, the State Department of Education, even universities kind of wandering and scratching their heads about how they're going to respond to this. Like, what does it mean? You know, the NCAA has their ideas about transgender athletes that don't comport with this law.
Right. And that's the thing about this law is it applies kindergarten through college, through any any collegian athletes are, are under the circumstances of this law.
There's another piece of legislation that got some attention. It was about banning gender affirming care of youth, and I'm not sure what happened to that legislation, but maybe Erin can help us.
Well, I know that the legislation was vetoed by the governor. Which, which, you know, Kansas action for children thinks is a good thing. We didn't weigh in on this bill. But I will say that I I think it's disappointing that the legislature spent so much time and energy and rhetoric on on legislation that would be so harmful to can't transgender, Kansans, when that's not what Kansans needed or wanted, they should have been focusing on things that would you know, help people afford to have enough to eat help people afford health care, help people have the best public education that they could. So that's, I think the main takeaway from all of this harmful legislation targeting transgender people
does reek of social political warfare and just political opportunism. Daniel, I wanted to skip over to public education, because because the legislation involved there, there's all kinds of things there's there's preschool money flowing into the state. There's there's Senate Bill 113. That is a broad school finance bill, but also has tons of policy in it as well. I think there's going to be winners and losers out of that. Do you want to kind of summarize some of what went down?
Yeah, absolutely. Senate Bill 113, that you touched on contains most of the education funding, which is a good piece of legislation, if you take out some of the policy. It does for several years in a row now continue the trend to fully funding public education in Kansas, and this year, it also adds an inflationary increase. That was part of the funding lawsuit several years ago. However, it does not include the special education funding increase that the governor requested in her budget, which is very unfortunate. Now the legislature tried several times to push that through along with a voucher package. A voucher is a way that public funds can be used for private schools. And resoundingly several times, that voucher package was rejected by the legislature. The Senate never voted to accept it. And so then they had to come back and put special education funding into Senate Bill 113. But they did not include any increases to help us get to a statutory level of funding.
The idea was to maybe over the course of five years, add $75 million to special education funding to get it up to a level that the federal government would see fit to properly fund this. And they use that element as sweetener in these voucher bills to try to leverage legislators to support vouchers which continue to be unpopular, and there were quite a few voucher proposals out there. So so this there is there's some perhaps some new special education money, but not the big step that the governor had proposed in January.
Right? Absolutely. I believe it was about 7 million additional funding for special education. I will say that the 92% of excess costs, that's a Kansas thing that's not a federal. Oh, I see. So, yeah, that's a Kansas, Kansas policy that's in our loss. Okay. Sorry about that. No, you're fine. And then additionally, there were several policies that were added on to that funding bill. I think in the end, it was 11 or 12, different policy bills were pieces were added. Some of them were relatively harmless, including the ability of teachers to take their children to the school where they teach. That's a good policy. That's something that we all want.
How if you live in Topeka, and you teach in in, in Lawrence, maybe you're you would like your kids to go to school in Lawrence. And that would be allowed.
Yeah, absolutely. It really is a counter argument to the open enrollment policy that was passed a year ago. Other than that, there were several pieces that really harmed public education as a whole. There's an expansion of the low income scholarship tax credit, which is a type of voucher that is added to the funding bill. And that's something that advocates were very, very disappointed to see in this particular bill.
All right, there's one more thing we wanted to touch on before we get out the door, and that is Kansas, actual children's Hmong, a coalition of people that support expansion of eligibility for Medicaid, and this would be perhaps over 100,000 Kansans. And you know, there's a there's a real sense that, that this kind of interdiction would improve the health of so many Kansans and improve the lives of families. And so Heather, why don't you take up that it, of course failed, because the House and Senate Republican leadership don't want to build a pass, although it's assumed that if they did let a clean bill show up on the floor of the House and Senate that it would, and the governor said you'd sign it. So. So what happened this year?
So Tim, we saw several attempts to add Medicare, Medicaid expansion to the bills when they were debated on the floor, or even a, you know, almost, you know, I, you know, novel idea of taking one of the food security bills we've already talked about had language in there. That said only the legislature has the authority to expand Medicaid, and we saw an amendment attempted on the floor, that would strike that language out of the bill, that would put it back the decision back in the governor's hands,
right. Brownback was so fearful when he was governor that Medicaid expansion would occur that he had a statute put in place that would require the legislature to consent to that. In other states, governors have just waved their magic wand and expanded Medicaid,
right. And so in Kansas, unfortunately, we don't have that option because of this language. And so that amendment was attempted, and we did see pretty lengthy debate on the floor about expansion. But then ultimately, it was declared non germane and failed, just like so many other attempts have happened the last few years, we saw, you know, two bills never get a hearing. And that's really frustrating, because we know almost eight out of every 10 Kansans support expanding KanCare. And we could help so many people get health coverage, so they can get healthy. So they can go to work, and they can live a fulfilling life. And for Kansas action. For children. We especially care about this issue, because we know that when parents have health coverage, their kids are more likely to go to the doctor and get other types of health care. And in states that have expanded Medicaid, we see more kids get signed up for these programs, because when parents sign up, they learn their kids are eligible, and they get their children signed up for Medicaid. And so we see the uninsured numbers get reduced in states that have expanded Medicaid, Oklahoma is the most recent example of this happening. And so, you know, expanding Medicaid helps people finally get health care, they're going without health care, and our rural hospitals continue to close their doors. We know expanding care would help those rural hospitals. And it's beyond time that we get to the Stan for the state of Kansas.
Eventually Kansas will be bracketed by Medicaid expansion states. You know, the holdouts are a handful like Kansas in the Deep South, it's 10. And so even there's erosion in this opposition even in the Carolinas so yeah, yeah. Okay. Excellent. Thank you so much for helping us kind of plow through three months worth of legislative activity. I want to thank the the Kansas action for children and their staffers, Daniel Clawson, Aaron mountain and Heather Brahm for helping us walk through these issues. Thank you so much.