Legislative leaders agreed Monday to approach Medicaid expansion on multiple fronts before returning in January for next year's session.
Meeting as the Legislative Coordinating Council, the top five Republicans and top two Democrats installed an interim schedule that allows for both a Senate-only panel and a joint committee to hold hearings on the issue of extending health insurance coverage to low-income families through the state-run Medicaid program.
The compromise was reached after Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, insisted on crafting a Senate position and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, objected to complicating the issue with multiple committees.
Denning said he made a commitment to Senate Republicans to allow them to draft a response to a Medicaid expansion plan passed this year by the House.
"I'm going to be really, really ticked off because I made that commitment," Denning said.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, proposed the compromise, which requires the Senate panel to meet first, then report to the joint committee for further exploration.
"The Senate majority leader has made it very clear that he wants a select committee just from his members," Ryckman said. "The House members have made it clear that we would like to be part of that discussion. So what we have in front of us is a balance."
Medicaid expansion, which would reach an estimated 130,000 low-income adults and children, is a priority for Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. Efforts by GOP leaders to block expansion fueled a series of attention-getting protests this year that defied legislative decorum.
A majority of members in both the House and Senate appear to support some form of Medicaid expansion. A coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans forced passage of a plan in the House, but Denning and Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, refused to let the plan come to a debate or vote.
Denning placated House Republicans — who briefly held the state budget hostage in hopes of forcing Senate action on Medicaid expansion — by promising to bring legislation before the Senate for a vote in January after producing a conservative-flavored bill.
Moderate Republicans in the House expected to have a voice in the shaping of any new legislation and expressed frustration when they learned Denning planned to exclude House members from the interim committee.
The joint committee approved by the LCC will include members of both the House and Senate, offering an opportunity for debate about any policy divisions that emerge from the Senate panel.
The LCC also approved a study of the state Medicaid system separate from the two committees.
Hensley said he didn't mean to "tick off" Denning, but he expressed concern with the "fractured" approach.
"If we're going to deal with the issue in a responsible and expedited manner," Hensley said, "I think we should have senators and House members in the same room together to try to put together some sort of proposal that would be introduced into the 2020 session."
Ryckman said he was "kind of on the same page" with Hensley, which "might be shocking news," but the House speaker expressed concern that a failure to sign off on Denning's panel would jeopardize any discussion on Medicaid expansion before January. LCC rules require five votes from the seven members for a motion to pass.