By John Celock
Kansas lawmakers voted to sustain a veto of the state’s Medicaid expansion, falling three votes shy of what was needed to override.
The state House of Representatives voted 81-44 to sustain Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) veto of the Medicaid expansion, the latest in a long-standing debate on the subject in Kansas. The vote came after three days of expansion advocates attempting to swing three lawmakers who voted against the bill to vote to override. In the end, advocates were able to get two House members to switch from no to yes, but two lawmakers also switched from yes to no, leaving the final override vote at the same totals as the original vote. Eighty-four votes are needed in the House to override a veto.
“Keep in mind what you heard from your communities,” Health and Human Services Committee Vice Chairwoman Susan Concannon (R-Beloit), who was pushing the override, said Monday. “Your communities, your people want this.”
The override effort started Thursday shortly after Brownback issued his veto, but lawmakers voted that day to pause the final vote until Monday due to the absence of Rep. Linda Gallagher (R-Lenexa), an expansion supporter, at a funeral several hours from the Capitol. Lawmakers were told that if an override had occurred Thursday that they would wait for Gallagher’s return, a move that would have paused House business and required lawmakers not to leave their chairs until she returned.
The pause gave advocates and opponents three days in an attempt to rally support to their side. If the House had passed the override, the measure would have moved to the state Senate, where two votes needed to flip from no to yes to override the governor.
Rep. Fred Patton (R-Topeka), a moderate Republican who was the top target of advocates to flip from no to yes, made the decision to flip Monday, after several days of keeping both sides guessing. On Monday, Patton submitted an explanation of vote to say that access to health care and preventing hospital closures were the top reasons he decided to change his vote.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Troy Waymaster (R-Russell), whose name was mentioned as a potential flip, started Monday voting no on the override and then switched to yes during the vote. Waymaster did not explain his vote on the floor.
At the same time, Reps. Tory Arnberger (R-Great Bend) and Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) changed from voting yes on the original bill to no on the override. Arnberger did not explain her switch on the floor, while Aurand said his vote was due to concerns over the cost of Medicaid expansion and the need to craft a Kansas plan. He said that when he cast his original vote in February, he expected the Senate to amend the bill and a conference committee to meet on the issue. The Senate did not amend the bill and no conference committee was needed. Aurand said that he favors the expansion and would like to see a legislative committee created to study the issue and craft a Medicaid expansion plan over the month of April for a May vote.
Both Aurand and Arnberger had been listed by advocates as lawmakers that could potentially flip from yes to no.
During the House consideration of the override, several supporters took to the floor in an attempt to get lawmakers to vote yes. Concannon described the bill as an economic development and health care access bill, noting that governors around the country support the measure. Gallagher said the legislation was “not a welfare bill” while Rep. Jeff Pittman (R-Leavenworth) stressed that the bill was job creation for rural areas.
Concannon noted that the expansion could protect vulnerable rural hospitals in the state and was backed by business leaders.
Rep. Diana Dierks (R-Salina) said that her constituents wanted the bill passed.
“Last week I stood here and asked you to please consider voting for the override,” Dierks said. “This weekend I had the opportunity to visit with many of my constituents and they called and emailed. They pleaded with me ‘talk to your colleagues.’”