TOPEKA — The House on Wednesday loudly rejected the latest attempt by Democrats to inject Medicaid expansion into an unrelated bill, halting debate by employing a procedural tactic to block off-topic amendments.
Rep. Tim Hodge, D-North Newton, proposed amending legislation that would create juvenile crisis intervention centers, telling lawmakers they were running out of time for consideration of broadening the eligibility of health insurance for elderly, disabled and poor Kansans.
"This is something this bill needs," Hodge said. "It’s something this state needs. It’s something most of our constituents need."
His comments sparked a call by Rep. Daniel Hawkins, R-Wichita, to challenge whether the amendment was germane. Hawkins is chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, where Medicaid expansion hasn't surfaced this year.
If lawmakers wouldn't allow the discussion now after blocking a similar effort last week, asked House Minority Leader Jim Ward, of Wichita, when would a debate be allowed? On Twitter, Rep. Brandon Whipple, D-Wichita, asked what Republican leaders were afraid of.
Caught in the political crosshairs was Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, who leads the rules committee. In his judgment, the amendment wasn't related to the underlying bill.
"We don't look at our personal feelings on legislation," Fitch said after the House adjourned. "It's all about whether it fits the test for being germane."
For the House to have a conversation about the topic, a Medicaid expansion bill needs to pass through the Health committee.
Hodge called for a vote to challenge Finch's ruling, which was upheld by a roaring voice vote.
"The people here lack courage to debate this issue this year," Whipple said. "Very sad."
Last year, lawmakers sent an expansion package to Gov. Sam Brownback, who vetoed the bill. Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican who serves as vice chairwoman on the Health committee, said she would welcome a conversation about Medicaid expansion but didn't feel it was right to bring it as an amendment on the House floor.
"It does bother me that we historically struggle to have the debate on the floor," Concannon said. "But we had a vote last year, and I don't see that it's changed much."