Well-timed speeches by GOP convey persuasive messages, leading to rare reversals on three Kansas House bills

Beloit Republican Rep. Susan Concannon delivered a compelling speech in the Kansas House, successfully swaying the opinion of over 50 members and ultimately leading to the narrow defeat of a bill associated with federal funding for rural hospitals.

Legislation designed to proactively position Kansas for federal funding in order to reopen rural hospitals that have been closed since 2015 is making significant progress in the Kansas House, garnering support from 110 out of 125 representatives.

The current federal law restricted the bailout to rural U.S. hospitals with less than 50 beds that were operational in December 2020. However, Kansas lawmakers expressed their intention to enact a Kansas bill in anticipation of Congress expanding the eligibility to include hospitals that closed down between January 2015 and December 2020.

If that were to happen, Kansas could potentially receive enough federal funding to reopen five closed hospitals. This would provide a counterargument to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s case for expanding Medicaid, which aims to benefit 152,000 Kansans with lower incomes and secure substantial annual federal funding for the state’s healthcare system.

House Bill 2637 was on the verge of being passed last week, even though it included an amendment that introduced a 35-mile noncompete buffer around current hospitals. Representative Ron Bryce, a Republican from Coffeyville, emphasized the importance of this amendment in protecting a local hospital from potential closure. He expressed concerns that the hospital would struggle to compete with a newly established medical facility that qualified for special funding as a “rural emergency hospital.”

“I understand that the intention behind this bill is commendable,” expressed Bryce, a physician, empathetically. “Similar to many of you, I represent a rural district with a hospital that is facing challenges. However, the local area cannot sustain the existence of two hospitals. Instead of creating a new federally funded competitor nearby, we should focus on providing support to rural hospitals and ensuring their viability.”

On the House floor, Beloit GOP Representative Susan Concannon took hold of the microphone and showcased the impact of an individual voice. She expressed concern that Bryce’s amendment could hinder the efforts to make closed Kansas hospitals eligible for congressional funding. Concannon explained that she was counting on the expansion of a federal program, which would provide participating hospitals with an additional monthly payment of $276,000 and a medical rate 5% higher than the standard rate for Medicaid outpatient services.

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According to Concannon, the amendment to the bill was initially meant to address a specific issue with rural hospitals. However, she argues that the amendment actually has a negative impact on these hospitals by eliminating the opportunity for them to become rural emergency hospitals.

The comments from Concannon sparked a reaction from both Democrats and Republicans, who quickly responded by changing their votes on the bill. Rep. Blake Carpenter, a Republican from Derby who was presiding over the House, anticipated a wave of vote changes as a result of Concannon’s remarks. Many legislators raised their hands to indicate their intention to switch their votes.

Carpenter confidently announced, “Let’s get started. Rep. Winn is a no vote. Rep. Vic Miller is also a no vote… Any other changes?” The voting continued until 60, with Rep. Eplee and Rep. Laura Williams both voting against the bill. The unexpected turn of events had a significant impact, as 52 representatives changed their vote, ultimately leading to a close defeat of 58-62.

Rep. Troy Waymaster, a Republican from Bunker Hill, voiced his dissatisfaction with a House bill that aimed to broaden the driving privileges of teenagers with a farm license, specifically for transportation to and from religious activities. Waymaster’s remarks sparked a wave of vote switching, ultimately leading to the demise of the bill.

Knowing the way

Rural House members aimed to expand a state law in Kansas that permits teenagers living or working on a farm to obtain a Class C driving permit for transportation to and from religious activities. The proposed House Bill 2523 sought to modify the existing state law, allowing teenagers as young as 14 to drive between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. specifically for events organized by faith-based organizations.

The House Transportation Committee believed that a 14-year-old was not mature enough to handle such responsibility. In response, the committee revised the bill to provide the option of religious observance for 15-year-olds instead. Representative Tory Marie Blew, R-Great Bend, attempted to restore the exemption for 14-year-olds through an amendment on the House floor, but her proposal was rejected.

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The bill granting driving privileges to 15-year-olds seemed to have secured its survival with a final vote of 74-46 in the House.

Rep. Troy Waymaster, a Bunker Hill Republican and chairman of the influential House Appropriations Committee, firmly opposed the decision to prohibit 14-year-olds from driving to a church event. According to Waymaster, this restriction was a direct insult to the hardworking farmers and ranchers of Kansas.

“We are voting against HB 2523 in its current form because it is perceived as being anti-agriculture,” he expressed. “We cannot endorse a bill that specifically targets the agriculture industry in Kansas.”

While presiding over the House, Carpenter started addressing the vote changes brought about by Waymaster. A total of twenty-five Republicans and Democrats decided to change their stance. At a certain moment, Rep. Shannon Francis, a Republican from Liberal, attempted to rescue the bill.

Francis passionately argues that the bill in question is straightforward. According to him, children with farm permits are currently prohibited from driving to and from religious activities if they are under the age of 16. This is in contrast to a previous allowance that permitted them to do so from the age of 15.

Waymaster’s exclamation paled in comparison to Francis’ explanation in a showdown.

“There don’t appear to be any other changes to votes. Representative Howerton votes no,” Carpenter announced. “Are there any further changes? Alright. With 48 votes in favor and 72 against the passage of HB 2523, which falls short of the constitutional majority required, the bill is now declared lost.”

During a House floor speech, Rep. Kenny Titus, R-Manhattan, raised concerns about a bill that was about to pass. He pointed out that the bill in question improperly exempted the Kansas Corporation Commission from certain provisions of the Kansas Open Meetings Act. As a result of this revelation, the bill ultimately failed to pass.

And, the trifecta

The Kansas House of Representatives showed support for House Bill 2591 in its initial vote. Most members were in favor of granting an exemption from the Kansas Open Meetings Act to the Kansas Corporation Commission. This exemption would allow the three commissioners to have private discussions before making public decisions related to the energy, utility, and transportation industries.

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The KCC has a busy schedule, making decisions regarding the regulation of electricity, oil, and natural gas. This includes determining prices for utility companies.

According to Andrew French, chairman of the commission, there is a belief that the KCC could make more informed and independent decisions if commissioners were able to privately discuss matters, similar to how an appellate court operates. He further explained that some individuals feel that the KCC staff holds too much influence in the absence of private conversations among commissioners.

He expressed a firm belief that the Kansas open meetings law’s public policy rationale is not weakened by the proposed exemption in the bill.

The House of Representatives ultimately sided with French’s perspective, as evidenced by the final vote count of 67-53.

Rep. Kenny Titus, a Manhattan Republican and an attorney, stepped into the spotlight and voiced his concerns about the bill, stating that it could establish a worrisome precedent.

According to the speaker, the KCC’s responsibilities in regulating monopolies are distinct from other quasi-judicial bodies, and it is crucial to provide the public with increased transparency rather than reducing it. The speaker expresses concern that once transparency safeguards are eliminated, it will be extremely challenging for the KCC to reinstate them. While acknowledging the potential need for restructuring the KCC’s structure and operations, the speaker asserts that exempting their critical work from the open meetings act is not an appropriate solution.

Democratic Representative Stephanie Sawyer Clayton initiated the vote switching, and it continued until 30 representatives changed their stance to no, while one shifted to yes. Eventually, this bill suffered the same fate as its two counterparts, being defeated by a wide margin of 38-82.

The Kansas Reflector features a compelling article titled “Persuasive GOP messages in well-timed speeches fuel rare reversals on three Kansas House bills.” The article highlights the impact of strategically delivered speeches by Republican members of the Kansas House, which led to unexpected reversals on three legislative bills.

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