PITTSBURG — Area leaders gathered for the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce’s legislative send-off luncheon on Friday at the Wilkinson Alumni Center. 

Kansas House representatives Ken Collins (R-Mulberry), Monica Murnan (D-Pittsburg), and Rich Proehl (R- Parsons) were featured speakers. 

During the send-off Chamber President Blake Benson shared some of the Chamber’s 2020 legislative priorities. These included Highway 69 and long-term investment in transportation infrastructure, KanCare expansion, and additional state investment in state universities to defray increased operating costs and keep tuition affordable, he said. 

“They are pretty consistent on where we've been these last couple of years,” Benson said about the chamber’s top three priorities. 

On the topic of transportation, Proehl said “69 highway is moving and is moving in the right direction finally,” and applauded the Highway 69 Association for the group’s advocacy. Prohel mentioned other highways which he said needed expansion. He said the Kansas Department of Transportation is looking at completing T-Works projects and “when that’s done move other items, modernization and expansion up in the process” instead of “sitting” on projects for several years. 

Collins said that the 4-lane expansion of Highway 69 will be beneficial to his district and that he’s looking forward to the improvements that are going to be made there.  

“It’s very important, the Dollar General there in Arma, which I travel through quite a bit, there has been some fatal accidents there,” he said, adding that the expansion is a “big priority” for him. 

During the send-off Murnan discussed the Medicaid expansion and the bipartisan Medicaid expansion plan announced by Governor Kelly on Thursday. 

“The reason yesterday’s announcement was a big deal was because last year the house passed out a medicaid expansion bill and it was stalled in the senate,” Murnan said Friday. “The person who mostly was responsible for stalling that was the person who came to the table and came up with this compromise language that you saw yesterday.” 

Murnan encouraged people at the event, and for them to encourage others, to “watch along closely.” 

“On the Medicaid thing, Blake, in full transparency, because I've been a loud proponent and have been involved with conversations all over this summer, it is not a budget neutral bill that is being filed, it still does have a price tag on it, but the hospitals have picked up a significant portion of that. 

“It’s still an investment on the state’s part but it’s an investment for drawing down lots and lots of other dollars.” 

Murnan also mentioned another announcement recently made by the governor on Wednesday proposing to create a single agency which would combine the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services with the Department for Children and Families. The new agency would also take over the juvenile services division of the Department of Corrections.

“I think the juvenile justice component is pretty critical here because we have had them in the Department of Corrections for the last several years,” Murnan said. “There’s been some overlap and gaps and such, but the most important thing for you to know is that as I have spoken to you every year I have come, that the power of the agencies is where the service lays to citizens. “Everything from revenue to disability services and when your agencies are strong then things roll smoothly and people get what they need and more importantly this doesn’t take up a lot of space in an individual citizen’s life.”

The Senate Bill 249 recently caught Collins’s attention, he said at the luncheon. 

“It would enable doctors to make a decision if someone is having a big mental health issue, maybe they are suicidal, they would make the decision on whether or not they need to be hospitalized up to the doctors and the hospitals and not have some insurance company executive or whatever making that decision,” he said. 

Murnan also spoke on mental health. 

“We all are really clear that mental health crosses over all of our worlds, so everything from law enforcement to workforce development, it is just critical,” she said. “We are also very clear that our infrastructure for mental health services needs to be improved and it needs to be tiered from the very basic prevention to the very serious in-patient treatment. It has to be tiered, it has to be available, it has to be flexible and quick to respond,” Murnan said, adding that she thinks they will have more of these conversations as local agencies continue to collaborate with the house representatives. 

Both Collins and Murnan spoke on food tax. Murnan also spoke on the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System and the school finance lawsuit which the Kansas Supreme Court ruled on in June.