A contingent of House Republicans abandoned plans Saturday to force a vote on Medicaid expansion, choosing instead to adopt a revised state spending plan and clear a path to end the session.
Moderate Republicans had joined with Democrats in the House to reject two rounds of budget proposals on Friday, but enthusiasm waned Saturday night as the House chamber was locked down for two hours and maximum pressure was applied.
More than 20 Republicans eventually switched their vote, leading to 79-45 passage of a budget that boosts funding for higher education, the public employee retirement system and highway repairs. The Senate then approved the budget by a 26-14 vote, sending the legislation to Gov. Laura Kelly.
Rep. Don Hineman, a Republican from Dighton who supports Medicaid expansion, said moderate Republicans feared retaliation from leadership if they continued to stonewall the budget.
"Any additional progress would have been very, very difficult and with an increasing amount of risk involved," Hineman said.
Additionally, Hineman said, Medicaid expansion supporters received assurances from Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a Republican from Overland Park who has resisted overtures to consider legislation this year that would provide government-funded health care coverage to an additional 130,000 Kansans.
Denning, who has said he prefers to study the issue further before lawmakers return next year, committed to have an interim committee develop a Medicaid expansion plan and bring it to a vote on the Senate floor in January.
"They wanted to make sure we were serious," Denning said. "He said he would like an assurance that we would run it before March, and I told him that I thought it would be ready by January."
Kelly, a Democrat who made Medicaid expansion a cornerstone of her agenda, said Kansans who are struggling with illness and disability don't have time to wait until next year.
The governor commended House Democrats who "stood strong together against pressure, threats and coercion in an effort to help more Kansans get access to affordable healthcare."
More than 20 Democrats delivered speeches on the House floor after Republicans peeled back their support.
Rep. Tim Hodge, D-North Newton, blasted moderate Republicans who backed out of an agreement to refuse all budget deals until Medicaid expansion passed.
"We all know what the deal was," Hodge said. "We all stayed, and a bunch of you strayed. I can't believe you can't stay solid for a few hours while there's 130,000 Kansans out there without health insurance. You could have done this."
Hineman said he thought the budget would fail, but he changed his vote with other Republicans when it became obvious that the effort to force Medicaid expansion had failed. He said he understood the disappointment by Democrats.
"I'm disappointed, as well," Hineman said. "I believe we did move the ball in the right direction. I believe it is more obvious today than it was a week ago that Kansas will seriously consider and very likely adopt Medicaid expansion within the next nine months."
The budget that was passed by both chambers restored funding cuts that were proposed the night before. However, it redirected $35 million in new funding for the Kansas Department of Corrections that was earmarked to address staffing problems and overcrowding in state prisons.
By moving the funding to an oversight panel, the corrections department will have to make requests for spending decisions at meetings throughout the year.
Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, said the changes were problematic and could prevent the corrections department from quickly responding to problems.
"If it had not been a last-minute thing and had not been caught up in some of the doings in the House on the other issue, with Medicaid expansion, it would have been vetted better," Hawk said. "Perhaps some oversight was needed, but I don't think this was the best way to do it."