Sen. Bowers keeping busy during legislative break
The Kansas Legislature is on a break until May 1, but that doesn’t mean Senator Elaine Bowers isn’t out there working for her constituents in District #36 during her time away from Topeka.
Along with helping her husband Charlie operate Concordia Chevrolet/Buick and Concordia Auto Mart, Bowers also attends several events and travels around the district talking to Kansans about what is taking place during the current legislative session.
“I am traveling around the district during the break, and I am also trying to work here (Concordia Auto Mart), and Beloit and Chevrolet/Buick,” Bowers said, “We are citizen legislators. We work 90 days in Topeka, but it is really 365 days a year. I do legislative work every day. Some days are more legislative, and some days are more car.”
Bowers, a Republican from Concordia, is currently serving her second six-year term in the Senate, after having served three terms representing the 107th District in the House of Representatives.
“I feel like I am just getting warmed up,” Bowers said.
Bowers said she plans to file for re-election in 2020.
“I have got my wheels under me,” Bowers said.
So far this year, there have been 240 bills introduced by the Senate, and 62 bills were sent to the House. Of those, 36 were sent back to the Senate.
There have been 40 bills sent to the governor.
Serving in the Senate are 29 Republicans, 10 Democrats and one Independent.
Among the pieces of legislation passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Laura Kelly prior to the break was the education funding bill, Senate Bill 16.
Senate Bill 16 adds approximately $90 million in funding for public schools for the 2019-20 fiscal year.
The bill passed 31-8 in the Senate and 76-47 in the House, and was in response to a decision by the Kansas Supreme Court that public schools were not being adequately funded.
“We (Senate) passed it 31-8, that is a very nice vote. It was bipartisan,” Bowers said, “This is what the legislature’s lawyers believe will satisfy the court.”
Attorney General Derek Schmidt was to present the bill to the Supreme Court today.
“It has been going on since I have been there (Topeka). I would like to see it resolved this year,” Bowers said of the school funding issue.
Still pending in the legislature is the Medicaid expansion bill. It would extend health care coverage to approximately 150,000 Kansans.
Medicaid expansion was approved 70-54 by the House, but has yet to be debated by the Senate.
“There has been a lot of movement since we have been gone on the break,” Bowers said, “The vote is going to come sooner or later, whether it is this year or next year. My leadership thinks next year.”
The bill is similar to the one that was passed by both the Senate and the House two years ago, but vetoed by Governor Sam Brownback.
Bowers said the bill is currently in the Public Health and Welfare committee.
“There is talk about still having a hearing and still working it when we go back,” Bowers said.
“There is expected to be a vote on May 1, on whether or not to debate the proposed bill in the Senate.”
Bowers, who had previously voted to expand Medicaid, said that a proposal in the House bill to include a $25 co-pay was an important piece.
“There could be some more ideas tied to it, and that is what comes out in the debate,” Bowers said, “We really need to have the debate.”
Bowers said that her district covers 11,000 square miles, and includes many critical care hospitals which could be impacted by the passage of Medicaid expansion.
“We have been watching the rural hospitals in rural Kansas close,” Bowers said.
Bowers said the question remaining about the issue is the uncertainty of the cost.
“The cost is a mystery, and what you don’t want to do is pass a bill that the costs are out of control. So people fear a tax increase,” Bowers said, “If there could be a way to firm up that number, what the cost is, it could put people’s minds at ease. That is the downfall, we don't know how much it costs. And that is a legitimate discussion point.”
When returning from break, the legislature will still have to approve a balanced budget for 2020.
“The budget is now in the conference committee process,” Bowers said.
There are three Senate members and three House members involved in the conference process.
“They are down to two items,” Bowers said.
One of those items is raises for state employees; the other is how to pay back the fund that money was borrowed from.
“We borrowed money from a fund at zero percent interest. The Senate wants to pay it back all at once and the House wants to make payments, but it is a no interest loan, so I tend to agree with the House on that one,” Bowers said.