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Kansas Governor-Elect Kelly Sets Targets for School Funding, LGBT Protections and Medicaid Expansion

Governor-elect Laura Kelly and her running mate, Lieutenant Governor-elect Lynn Rogers. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

Kansas Democratic Governor-elect Laura Kelly is targeting school funding, Medicaid expansion and LGBT protections as some of her top priorities as she prepares to take office in January.

Kelly told reporters Thursday that she plans to reinstate protections for LGBT state workers quickly with an executive order barring discrimination.

“I am planning to actually have that executive order drafted before I take office,” she said, “so that as soon as it’s possible to do that, I will reinstate that order.”

Kansas previously had similar protections for employees in the executive branch that barred discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but then-Gov. Sam Brownback rescinded them in 2015. Brownback said protections should be created by the Legislature, not the governor.

When the legislative session starts in January, Kelly said tackling school funding will be her first priority. Lawmakers must respond to a state Supreme Court ruling that said schools aren’t adequately funded.

Legislators crafted a proposal earlier this year to comply, but the justices said it needs to be adjusted for inflation. That cost could approach $100 million per year.

Lawmakers reversed many of the state’s 2012 tax cuts last year. In addition, monthly tax collections have been consistently beating estimates, even accounting for that tax increase.

The state is getting on solid financial footing, Kelly said, and can fund priorities such as schools.

“Clearly, funding for education is something we know we have to do,” she said. “We’ve got that kind of money in the bank and can take care of it.”

Kelly is also aiming for expanding Medicaid in Kansas, a move that could potentially provide 150,000 Kansans with health care coverage. She hopes to draft a proposal to expand the joint federal/state health care program and have it approved by lawmakers before the legislative session ends next spring.

“So that more Kansans have access to health care, our rural hospitals can stay open and the taxpayer dollars that we send to Washington D.C. can come back home to Kansas to help our families,” she said.

Kelly said she’ll work with Republicans on the plan. She’ll need some GOP support to get Medicaid expansion passed.

Some critics of the idea have worried about the cost and uncertainty on the federal level. A Medicaid expansion bill passed the Legislature in last year but was vetoed by then-Gov. Brownback.

This week, Republican House Speaker Ron Ryckman warned that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and legislative leaders will not be interested in proposals that would bust the state budget.

“She ran on fiscal conservatism — no new taxes,” he said in a statement. “We are going to hold her to that promise and we know voters will too. “

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