‘No deal’ says Denning



May 14, 2019 - 10:34 AM

A deal to clear the way for Medicaid expansion next year that some Kansas lawmakers thought they had brokered in the waning hours of their just-finished legislative session appears to be unraveling.

Instead, the conservative leaders and moderate rank-and-file Republicans find themselves splitting in an intra-party fight.

Rep. Don Hineman led a last-minute insurrection by moderate House Republicans in the final days of this spring’s legislative session. They joined Democrats in demanding a Senate vote on Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s expansion bill and held up passage of the state budget to force that roll call.

Then, on the session’s final night, Hineman told reporters that his forces had reached an agreement with Senate leaders.

“We have achieved some assurances that have moved the ball in the right direction,” Hineman said.

The handshake deal, he said, committed the Senate to voting on a compromise expansion bill at the outset of the 2020 session. Importantly, he said, Senate leaders also agreed to leave the writing of the bill to a bipartisan committee of House and Senate members rather than a “handful” of conservative senators.

A week later, differing accounts of that agreement now undermine trust and the chances that lawmakers will start the 2020 session with anything approaching consensus on how to expand Medicaid coverage to tens of thousands more low-income Kansans.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said Hineman’s account is “fairly accurate” with one big exception: Senate leaders didn’t agree to let a joint study committee — with legislators from both the House and Senate, Republican and Democrat — write the compromise bill.

Instead, he said, a Senate committee headed by Sen. Gene Sullentrop, a Wichita Republican and expansion opponent, will take the lead.

Notably, the House had passed an expansion bill. In the Senate, Denning and Senate President Susan Wagle refused to bring that bill to the floor for a vote.

“The House doesn’t set the Senate agenda,” Denning said in a recent interview with the Kansas News Service.

Denning said he was “very clear with Representative” Hineman about how he planned to proceed.

“No,” Hineman said when reached for a response, he wasn’t.

“That is certainly not my interpretation of the discussion we had,” Hineman said. “That’s very discouraging.”

Rep. John Eplee, an Atchison Republican who also participated in the negotiations, confirmed Hineman’s account that Senate leaders, including Denning, agreed to allow a joint committee to write the bill.

“That’s what he promised us in the meeting,” Eplee said, adding that Denning also pledged to use the governor’s bill as a starting point.


BELIEVING THEY had won all the concessions they were going to get, Eplee said moderate Republicans dropped their demand for an immediate Senate vote.