Nine escorted from Capitol; one cited after Medicaid protest at Capitol

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Protesters singing and chanting for Medicaid expansion shut down the Senate for a brief period Wednesday, marking a rancorous end to the 2019 legislative session.

Nine protesters were escorted from the Capitol after leading a protest from the balcony as the Senate debated an override of the governor’s line-item vetoes of the budget.

The protesters were escorted out of the gallery and one was issued a notice to appear in court for allegedly interfering with the conduct of public business in public buildings, a Kansas Highway Patrol spokesman wrote in an email.

The notice to appear was issued to Unitarian minister Sarah Oglesby-Dunegan, authorities said.

At one point, Senate officials cleared the Senate chamber of reporters as the security closed the gallery and removed the protesters from the building.

Wednesday’s protest for Medicaid expansion was the latest to command the attention of the Capitol this session.

The protest was marked by chants of “Lord hear our prayers, we want health care” and “What do we want? Health care. When do we want it? Now.”

In March, a group of grass-roots activists unfurled mammoth-sized banners inside the Capitol rotunda denouncing Republican leadership for blocking Medicaid expansion.

The banners targeted Senate President Susan Wagle, House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning.

The signs read “Blood on their hands,” along with “Expand Medicaid” with each lawmaker’s name spelled out vertically.

In that case, three of the protesters were banned from the Capitol for a year, a punishment that was later lifted. It ultimately led to a federal lawsuit over the rules regulating the protest.

Then earlier this month, activists dropped thousands of fliers in the Capitol targeting senators who refused to consider Medicaid expansion this year.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said the restlessness stems from the Senate’s refusal to consider Medicaid expansion.

“It stands to reason this is what happens when you stifle debate,” Hensley said. “If you think you’re going to silence people, it just doesn’t work. They want their voices heard, and that’s why they’re here.”

Wagle called the protests “pure obstructionism.”

“Legally protected peaceful protest is consistent with some of the best traditions of American dissent,” Wagle said in a statement.

“But sadly, there was nothing peaceful about today’s events which follow a pattern we are seeing nationwide of the left’s mob mentality,” she said.

Denning said he thought the Capitol Police were hesitant in moving to shut down the protests.

“If that had happened at the Supreme Court hearing during the work they were doing on school finance, that chamber would have been cleared out in probably less than 60 seconds,” he said.

“What happened here went on for 15 minutes,” he said. “I don’t think the Capitol Police knew what to do because they know their governor is supporting that kind of activity to advance her Medicaid expansion agenda.”

A spokesman for the Highway Patrol declined comment and the governor’s office was evaluating Denning’s remark.