Sunday Roundup: Kansas sets record for ACA enrollment; Congressional fundraising

Photo Credit: Patrick Emerson

(Updated to included new 988 data released by the governor’s office)

Good morning everyone:

We sincerely hope everyone in eastern Kansas came out of Friday night’s storm OK and didn’t suffer extensive property damage. We were fortunate. No damage, although a neighbor’s house took a severe hit when a rather large tree blew over. Credit again to Mrs. SSJ, who always makes sure our limbs are trimmed back. We hope many of you have your power back by now, although at this time on Saturday morning, the SSJ home headquarters was closed for a lack of power. We are relegated to writing this from a Panera where our concentration is suffering because a restaurant doesn’t always make the best climate for writing. Normally, background noise is easy for us to tune out, but not today. If we’re running late this Sunday, blamed it on power issues. Now onto the significant stories that we published and other news you may have missed but need to know…

  • The state Republican Party’s rules committee convened without reconsidering a proposed rules change removing top elected officials and groups representing women, Hispanics, African Americans and young adults from key policy committees. The committee didn’t take up the matter despite the fact that state party Chair Mike Brown had urged the committee to reconsider the rule.
  • A high-powered conservative legal group with deep pockets has joined Republican Attorney General Kris Kobach in defending a state law that requires abortion providers to give women certain information about the procedure.
  • A Johnson County physician who immigrated to the United States from India announced he is running for the 3rd Congressional District seat against U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids.
  • Republican state Sen. Beverly Gossage may be at risk of drawing a primary challenge from a Leavenworth County vineyard owner.
  • The legal battle between Republican political consultants Jared Suhn and his former business partner Kris Van Meteren is getting hotter. Suhn is trying to force Van Meteren to pay $388,000 that he says he’s owed for the sale of his 50% stake in The Singularis Group, a prominent GOP consulting firm.
  • Could state Sen. J.R. Claeys and his brother possibly serve in the state Senate together? They might. This and other interesting candidate filings.
  • A joint legislative committee urged the state Transportation Department to withdraw a proposed rule requiring railroads operating in Kansas to have at least two crew members in the cab of the lead locomotive. The rule, intended to promote rail safety in Kansas, ran into opposition from Republican lawmakers who argued that Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration was going around the Legislature to make policy into law.
  • A Shawnee County District Court judge ordered Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration not to allow transgender Kansans to change their gender markers on driver’s licenses. Later in the week, the judge reaffirmed her ruling.
  • The governor said in a court filing that Republican Attorney General Kris Kobach’s interpretation of the “Women’s Bill of Rights” promotes discrimination and violence against transgender Kansans.
  • The last three members of a commission that will decide compensation for the Legislature were appointed on Thursday, including two more former lawmakers.

3rd District fundraising

U.S. Rep Sharice Davids reported raising about $600,000 in the second quarter as she prepares to go into 2024 with Republican challengers jockeying to run against the three-term Democratic incumbent.

Davids’ latest report filed with the Federal Election Commission for the second quarter showed that she had about $811,000 in cash on hand at the end of the second quarter on June 30.

Sharice Davids

By comparison, Davids raised about $1 million in the second quarter of 2022 when she was expecting to face Republican Amanda Adkins in the general election.

In 2021, Davids raised about $652,000 in the second quarter. And in 2020 when Davids was up for reelection for the first time, she raised about $875,200 in the second quarter.

Three Republican candidates, meanwhile, have announced their intentions to run against Davids in the Kansas 3rd District next year.

Last week, Johnson County oncologist Prasanth Reddy announced his candidacy for the 3rd District.

While he was not yet required to file a finance report, his campaign announced that he had raised $113,000 at the end of the first day of his campaign.

Republican Karen Crnkovich, the owner of a heating, cooling, ventilation and plumbing business in the Kansas City area, reported raising about $57,500 in the second quarter, federal campaign records show. She had about $53,500 in the bank.

And Jonathon Westbrook, who was a sergeant with the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department and was a White House Fellow in 2020-21, also filed papers to form a campaign committee.

He has has not raised or spent the $5,000 that’s required to file a report.

New candidate on radio

Johnson County oncologist Prasanth Reddy went on conservative talk radio last to introduce himself to listeners where, among other things, he talks about how he migrated from India to Manhattan, Kansas. Here’s a link to his interview with talk show host Pete Mundo.


2nd District fundraising

Democrat Eli Woody is barely making a dent in what he’ll need to make a serious challenge to Republican U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner in the 2nd Congressional District.

LaTurner reported raising about $226,000 in the second quarter ending June 30. He has about $513,000 in the bank has he head into his reelection year.

In similar time periods, LaTurner reported raising $208,980  in 2022, $169,997 in 2021 and $81,187 in 2020, the year he first ran for Congress.

Woody, meanwhile, reported raising $11,184 in the second quarter. He had $1,698 in cash on hand at the end of the quarter.

Other congressional fundraising

In other fundraising numbers released over the weekend, 1st Disrict Congressman Tracey Mann reported raising $191,426 in the second quarter with about $1.1 million in cash on hand. Mann reported raising $168,077 in the first quarter. In similar time periods, Mann reported raising $210,774 in 2022, $112,463 in 2021 and in $184,701 in 2020.

In the 4th District, Republican Congressman Ron Estes reported taking in $289,969 had almost about $1.2 million on hand at the end of the second quarter. In similar time periods, the Estes reported raising $296,432 in 2022, $197,449 in 2021 and $296,432 in 2020.

New ACA record in Kansas

Kansas set a new record for the number of people enrolled in an insurance plan available from the Affordable Care Act.

The Kansas Health Institute last week reported that a record 124,473 Kansans picked a health insurance plan or were automatically reenrolled in the program from Nov. 1 of last year through Jan. 15 of this year.

It was a 40% increase from 2021, when 88,627 people enrolled in the ACA, and a 15.5% bump from 2022, when 107,784 enrolled.

By comparison, there were only about 57,000 Kansans enrolled in the program in 2014, the first year health insurance could be purchased through the online marketplace offered by the Affordable Care Act.

The counties with the highest percentage of their population signing up for the ACA were Hodgeman County at 7.6%, followed by Sheridan at 7.4%, Washington County at 7.3%, Cheyenne County at 7.2%, Edwards County at 7.2% and Ottawa County at 6.8%.

In the state’s urban areas, the percentage of residents signing up for the program generally runs below 5%.

Johnson County was at 4.8%, followed by Douglas County at 4.6%, Wyandotte and Sedgwick counties at 4.5% and Shawnee County 3.6%.

KHI analysts believe there are several reasons for the increase in the number of enrollments.

When Congress approved the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill two years ago, it provided for the continuation of a more lucrative tax credit that lowered health insurance premiums.

They also attributed the increase to the fact that health insurers are banned from refusing to renew coverage for anyone who lagged behind or failed to make premium payments during 2022.

There also was a reduction in the documents required for people to prove they’re eligible for a special enrollment period due to a “qualifying event,” such as divorce or marriage.

They also said that there is new federal rule fixing the so-called “family glitch.”

The solution allows the cost of a family’s premiums rather than the individual employee’s to be used to determine affordability.

The remedy, KHI said, potentially makes more spouses and children eligible for a tax credit to purchase marketplace coverage from ACA.

Looking to the future, enrollment in the ACA could be affected by a special enrollment period for anyone who loses coverage under Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program because of the unwinding of the continuous Medicaid coverage provided during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

For 2023, eight insurers offered 128 different health insurance plans on the Kansas marketplace, KHI reported.

KHI said that the average monthly premium for a benchmark silver plan in Kansas for a family of four — before applying a tax credit — increased by 8.2%, which was more than the 4.4% increase nationally.

Improved bond rating, but….

The Kansas Department of Transportation received good news last week when Fitch Ratings upgraded its rating on $1.25 billion in the agency’s outstanding debt to AA from AA-.

However, there was kind of a small hitch that’s worth noting.

The curious part about the rating was what analysts had to say about the state’s reputation for using money from the Transportation Department to fund other parts of the budget.

While Gov. Laura Kelly and the Legislature have closed the so-called “Bank of KDOT” and ended those transfers, Wall Street didn’t seem to be persuaded the practice is dead.

“On a standalone basis, pledged revenues supporting the KDOT bonds could warrant a higher rating,” Fitch analysts noted.

“But the bonds’ credit quality is limited by a history of sizable prior transfers from the (state highway fund) to the (state general fund) along with KDOT’s occasional support of other non-transportation programs,” the analysts said.

“While transfers out of the (state highway fund) to other state funds have returned to their prior statutory limits since 2018, Fitch still considers SHF’s exposure to general state operations and credit quality to be a risk factor,” they wrote.

But the analysts gave the state credit for improving its financial position, leading to the rating upgrade.

“The rating upgrade to ‘AA’ reflects the steady performance of the pledged revenue stream throughout the pandemic, growth in KDOT’s available fund balances, and improvements in the underlying credit quality of the state of Kansas,” they said.

“Recent operating surpluses have boosted Kansas’s liquidity and eliminated its dependence on annual cash flow borrowing and (state highway fund) transfers to support state general fund operations,” they said.

Voting injunction fight

Four civic groups are asking the state Supreme Court to temporarily stop voting restrictions passed by the Legislature in 2021 while their case is on appeal.

Lawyers for Loud Light, Kansas Appleseed, the League of Women Voters and the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center want the court to stop two laws that are legally being challenged and will be heard by the state Supreme Court.

They are challenging a cap on the number of ballots third parties can collect and deliver to election offices on behalf of someone else. They are now limited to 10 under the law.

They are also contesting a ban on county election officers from accepting advance voting ballots sent by mail unless they verify that the signature on an advance voting ballot envelope matches the signature on file in the county voter registration records.

A district court has upheld those limits, but the state appeals court reversed the lower-court ruling and sent it back for further review. The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, although the laws are still in effect.

The plaintiffs say they can’t seek an injunction stopping the laws in district court until the appeal is settled, which won’t be in time for this August’s primary election and possibly in time for this fall’s elections or even next year’s elections.

“The challenged provisions threaten fundamental rights and there is no evidence that they are necessary to protect the integrity of the state’s elections, which have long been safe and secure without these new impediments,” the lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote.

“Absent an injunction, plaintiffs, their members and constituents, and countless other lawful voters face irreparable harm to their fundamental rights,” they argued.

“The state’s purported interest in preventing fraud is unsupported by any evidence of actual fraud that would ensue if the challenged provisions were enjoined.

“Kansas elected officials — including the Governor and the (secretary of state) — have continually emphasized that there is no evidence of voter fraud in Kansas elections under the laws that existed before enactment of the challenged provisions.”

The state is fighting the request, saying the plaintiffs waited too long in the legal process to ask for a temporary injunction.

The state says the plaintiffs did not seek a temporary injunction when they filed their lawsuit in 2021, although they did ask for one on a separate but related voting claim.

The state says the plaintiffs asked for an injunction in district court some 10 months after the lawsuit was filed, but a district court dismissed the litigation a couple days later.

The state argues that for the 11 months the case was pending before the Kansas Court of Appeals, the plaintiffs did not seek an injunction.

The state notes that after the appellate court handed down its ruling earlier this year and the state appealed, the plaintiffs waited another three months to seek a temporary injunction.

“If plaintiffs were so worried about the application of the challenged statutes to municipal and school board races, they could (and should) have sought temporary injunctive relief upon first filing this lawsuit back in the summer of 2021.”

The state argues that the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction is a strategy to “smoke out” its legal briefing and get an idea about its case.

“Defendants are unaware of this court ever granting a motion of this nature in this tribunal,” the state contended. “And there is no need to start now.”

988 anniversary

Today is the one-year anniversary of a hotline for anyone in distress to seek help, and calls continue to come in at an increased rate.

On July 16, 2022, the new 988 hotline started, providing an easy-to-remember way to reach out to mental health professionals for help.

Kaiser Family Foundation provided these takeaways of the program so far:

  • Since starting, “988 has received about 5 million contacts, of which nearly 1 million are from the Veteran’s Crisis Line — a part of 988 — with the rest consisting of 2.6 million calls, over 740,000 chats, and more than 600,000 texts.”
  • “In-state answer rates vary widely across states — from 55 to 98% — which may reflect state investments in crisis services, as well as length of investment.” Kansas had an in-state answer rate of 92% in May 2023 compared to 70% in May 2022 after the Legislature put $10 million into the hotline. In April and May of this year, the in-state answer rate for Kansas (91.8%) was better than Colorado (78.2%), Texas (75.6%), Nebraska (89.8%) and Iowa (87.6%).
  • “State-level momentum for 988 telecom fees is gaining traction, with legislation in place in six states and two additional states expected to follow suit.”

KFF reported that there were about 199,100 calls placed to the mental health crisis hotline nationally in May 2022 before 988 started. By May 2023, it had increased to 262,900.

Overall contacts with 988 — calls, chats and texts — increased to about 402,500 in May 2023 compared to about 303,300 a year earlier.

Kansas saw a roughly 28% increase in calls to Kansas mental health crisis centers for the first 10 months after the new 988 hotline started.

From July 2021 to June 2022, there were 17,649 calls placed to the Kansas hotline, according to federal data for calls handled in each state.

In the first 11 months the hotline was up and running, there were 20,431 calls placed to 988 in Kansas, an increase of 27% from the first 11 months a year earlier, when 16,084 calls were fielded in the state.

The federal numbers do not count data for texts ad chats placed to the hotline.

The governor’s office released data on Monday showing that when texts and chats were factored in, the total contacts through 988 are up 73% year over year.

The governor’s office noted that Kansas is one of  12 states nationally to maintain an in-state answer rate of 90% or better consistently.

Kansas divorce rate falls

New census data out last week showed that the Kansas divorce rate was cut nearly in half from 2011 to 2021.

The data showed that the divorce rate for Kansas women ages 15 and older declined from 12.3 per 1,000 women in 2011 to 6.8 per 1,000 women.

Nationally, the divorce rate dropped to 6.9 in 2021 from 9.7 divorces per 1,000 women in 2011, according to the census data.

The state’s marriage rate fell to 15.8 in 2021 from 17.4 in 2011, the data showed.

Nationally, the U.S. marriage rate was 14.9 marriages in the last year per 1,000 women, down from 16.3 a decade before.

The Kansas divorce rate of 6.9 placed it 32nd nationally. The state with the highest divorce rate in 2021 was Idaho at 11.1 followed by Arkansas at 11 and Mississippi at 9.7.

The state with the lowest divorce rate was New Hampshire at 4.3.

Kansas, meanwhile, ranked 19th nationally in the marriage rate, tied with Virginia at 15.8. The state with the highest marriage rate was Alaska at 23.5 followed by Utah at 22.3.

The state with the lowest marriage rate was Massachusetts at 11.8.

Historical horse racing license awarded

The state Racing and Gaming Commission last week awarded a license to casino owner Phil Ruffin to operate 1,000 historical horse racing machines at the now defunct Greyhound Park in Park City.

The $128 million Golden Circle casino project includes a Gilley’s Dance Hall and Saloon, fashioned after the nightclub with the riding bull portrayed in 1980s movie “Urban Cowboy” with John Travolta.

The Wichita Eagle reported the project would be patterned after Ruffin’s Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, which includes a 14,000-square-foot dance floor, live music, mechanical bulls and multiple bars at Gilley’s Las Vegas.

Historical horse racing machines play like a slot machine but use previously run horse races to determine winning combinations and the payouts for bettors.

Historical racing machines allow betting on randomly generated past horse races, with the games typically showing video of condensed horse races.

The gaming industry says it’s different from slot machines, which rely on a random number generator compared to historical racing that’s based on races from across the country and around the world.

Here’s coverage of last week’s Racing and Gaming Commission meeting in Wichita:

Abortion news

New abortion limits: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds last week signed a bill that immediately banned nearly all abortions after doctors detect a heartbeat, something that can occur at the sixth week of pregnancy. Here’s coverage from The Des Moines Register, ABC News, NBC News and The Hill newspaper. Debate on the bill was marked by protesters who were escorted from the Senate gallery for yelling. Shortly after the bill was passed by Iowa lawmakers, Planned Parenthood went to court to stop the law. The law is about the same as one the Iowa Supreme Court invalidated in 2019 as unconstitutional. The judge said he hopes to rule on a request to temporarily stop the law by Monday.

Next abortion ballot measures: Abortion rights supporters in at least 10 states are considering ballot measures to cement the right to the procedure in law. Vox reports that “in some states — including Florida, South Dakota, Ohio, Arizona, and Missouri — the measures could help restore rights that have already been lost. In other states, such as Nevada, Maryland, Colorado, and New York, voters could enshrine existing state protections.”

Idaho sued over abortion law: A lawsuit was brought last week challenging a new state law that makes it illegal to help minors get an abortion without their parents’ consent. The law is an effort to stop minors from getting abortions in states where the procedure is legal if they don’t have their parents’ approval. Violating the law is a felony. It carries a sentence of two to five years in prison. Here’s coverage from ABC News, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, The Associated Press and The Lewiston Tribune.

Virginia abortion providers see increase: Similar to Kansas, Virginia abortion providers report seeing an increase in patients from neighboring states that have tightened their laws limiting the procedure. They report seeing women from as far away as Georgia and Mississippi seeking an abortion. Here’s coverage from 13 News Now in Norfolk, Virginia.

Abortion polling: A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that 73% of all U.S. adults believe abortion should be allowed at six weeks of pregnancy. The poll reported that about half of Americans say abortions should be permitted at 15 weeks. The poll surveyed 1,220 adults from June 22-26.