KHI News Service

Clock ticking on roadblocked health bills

Divide between House and Senate negotiators means likely failure of several health-related bills

By Mike Shields | May 11, 2011

The divide between House and Senate negotiators over a catch-all health bill deepened today, which means an uncertain future for several initiatives, including one intended to encourage wider adoption of health information technology.

Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, chief of the Senate bargaining team, rejected an offer from the lead House negotiator, Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, that promised House support for various proposals included in House Bill 2182 and some others in exchange for the Senate agreeing to vote on a House bill that would ban smoking on the gaming floors of state-owned casinos.

SB 33 - Would require that a student athlete who suffered a head injury be examined and certified before being allowed to return to sports.

SB 76 - Deals with the licensing of physical therapists.

SB 100 - Deals with licensing of addiction counselors.

SB 133 - Would harmonize state and federal medical privacy laws, easing concerns among doctors about the potential liability issues involved with the digital exchange of electronic health records. Related story: "Health exchange board urges Legislature to pass HIE bill"

SB 134 - Deals with the licensing of advanced nurse practitioners.

SB 138 - Would, among other things, require pharmacy auditors to give advance notice before they arrive to inspect a pharmacy.

SB 139 - Deals with regional trauma centers.

SB 167 - Would prohibit anyone from being forced to buy health insurance.

SB 216 - Deals with licensing of emergency medical attendants.

HB 2182 - Deals with regulation of mail-order pharmacies.

Landwehr proposed amending HB 2340, the casino smoking bill, to include Senate bills 76 and 134 and then putting the measure to a vote on the Senate floor.

She also offered to accept HB 2182 amended to include Senate Bills 33, 100, 133, 138, 139, 167, 216 and the original HB 2182.

"That's our offer to help break the deadlock," Landwehr said.

But Schmidt told Landwehr — as she did in Tuesday's negotiating session — that she had been repeatedly told by Senate leaders that they will not allow a floor vote on the casino smoking bill. Casino operators have said extending the statewide smoking ban to include their businesses would significantly reduce the amount of money wagered and lost in the gaming parlors.

The Legislature last year passed a statewide ban on smoking in most public places. The few exemptions in the law that became effective July 1, 2010, were some designated hotel rooms, some private clubs, tobacco shops and casino floors.

Under state law, casinos are owned by the state, which takes a percentage of the profits, but are developed and operated by private contractors or licensees.

The state currently has one casino operating in Dodge City with others expected to open in Kansas City and Mulvane.

Schmidt told Landwehr that instead of a vote on casino smoking, the Senate would agree to a smoking exemption for an annual cigar benefit dinner hosted by a Catholic priest in Wichita, (something important to Landwehr) and would also add language assuring that high school swimmers who participated in non-school competitions couldn't be barred from practicing with their school swim teams if they met certain conditions (something important to Schmidt.)

"That would be our offer and our final offer," Schmidt said.

Shortly after that, the meeting broke up with no agreement that the negotiators would meet again.

Schmidt and Landwehr each told KHI News Service they didn't intend to bargain further on the bills unless the other softened her position and asked for a follow-up meeting.

Landwehr, chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, was one of the staunchest opponents of the statewide smoking ban which the Legislature approved last year. And earlier this year, she sponsored an unsuccessful bill that would have allowed smoking in bars that sell state lottery tickets. She repeatedly has said it is hypocritical for the state to ban smoking in private businesses but allow it in state-owned casinos.

In other action Wednesday, House and Senate budget negotiators appeared close to settling their differences, which opened the possibility that the Legislature could conclude its work for the year and adjourn perhaps by the weekend.

Related story
Health exchange board urges Legislature to pass HIE bill: Lawmakers sent letters noting measure's importance