Kansas will prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving any funds through its Medicaid program, Gov. Sam Brownback announced Tuesday in a State of the State address that encouraged state legislators to enshrine such a policy into law.
The Republican governor also spent part of his speech before a joint session of the GOP-dominated Legislature criticizing Democratic President Barack Obama on national security issues. Brownback said Kansas is prepared "to thwart every action" by the Obama administration to move prisoners being held as terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Fort Leavenworth.
Sen. Jeff Melcher, of Leawood, agrees with the governor. “Yeah, I think it's a good idea what the governor has done. We are not getting any leadership from Washington so it's something we have to take on ourselves, but that's not going to be the biggest issue we have to deal with."
In addition, Brownback said he favors tightening limits on local property taxes approved last year and putting them in effect before 2018, as previously planned. He urged lawmakers to design a new formula for funding Kansas' public schools that includes bonuses for exceptional teachers.
Rep. Barbara Bollier, of Mission Hills, was disappointed to not hear more specifics on a new school funding formula. “Really disappointing. Again, education, he talked about it briefly, but there was nothing specific said about what he would do to move a funding formula forward."
Brownback used his speech to outline a broad legislative agenda on multiple issues and announced his action against Planned Parenthood near the end.
"We have become the shining city on the hill and the champions for life," Brownback said in remarks prepared for delivery.
Brownback's 30-minute speech did not mention the issue that could occupy much of the legislative session: closing a projected $190 million budget deficit for the fiscal year beginning in July. His administration planned to release budget proposals Wednesday.
Democrats were quick to note the omission and the unusually strong criticism of a president by a governor in a State of the State address. Veteran Democratic Rep. Tom Sawyer of Wichita, called the speech a "waste of time."
Sen. David Haley, of Kansas City, Kan., believes that Brownback painted a “rosey picture” of the state. "It was interesting how he skirted that, how he just completely ignored the fact that right now, we had the largest tax increase in Kansas history.”
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said: "That is a classless performance."
Elise Higgins, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said attacking her group is an attempt to divert attention from Brownback's policy failures. She said Medicaid funds of about $61,000 a year reimburse its clinics for providing health exams, cancer screenings and birth control services for poor women.
"We intend to fight this," Higgins said.
Brownback, a strong abortion opponent, signed a law upon taking office in 2011 to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving federal family planning dollars through the state health department. The governor said Tuesday that he directed the department's secretary to see that "not a single dollar of taxpayer money" goes to the abortion provider through Medicaid, which provides health coverage for the needy.
"The time has come to finish the job," Brownback said.
Planned Parenthood performs abortions at a clinic in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park. It also has a clinic in Wichita that does not terminate pregnancies.
"I am disappointed on behalf of the women who rely on us for health care that the governor has chosen to make them his political scapegoat," Higgins said.
Brownback has signed multiple laws restricting abortion in his five years as governor, including a first-in-the-nation ban last year on a common second-trimester abortion procedure called "dismemberment abortion" by critics. That law is on hold while the state Court of Appeals reviews it.
The governor also last year called on the state medical board to investigate whether for-profit fetal tissue sales are occurring in Kansas, in violation of a state ban. Abortion providers in Kansas — including the regional Planned Parenthood affiliate — said they don't even have programs for legal donations of fetal tissue by patients. The board has not announced any results.
Efforts to prevent Medicaid dollars from going to Planned Parenthood have been blocked by federal courts in at least five other states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, said his office would defend a policy of withholding funding for Planned Parenthood.
A national conservative group, the Alliance Defending Freedom, praised the governor's move. Kansas Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairwoman Mary Pilcher-Cook called Brownback's announcement "a strong statement" and said it's possible a measure enacting the policy into law could pass.
"The momentum is in favor of respecting life," said Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican.
In criticizing Obama's administration, Brownback also declared that the president's signature health care overhaul, enacted in 2010, is "failing."
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican defended Brownback's attacks on Obama, saying, "I don't know if we've ever had this bad of a president."
Republicans in Kansas have resisted expanding the state's Medicaid program as the federal health care law encouraged but face pressure to consider it because of financial problems at rural hospitals. Brownback said he's forming a group led by Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer to draft a proposal to improve access to health care in rural areas.
Lexi Sutter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .