Archive for Friday, January 18, 2008

Area legislator expects health care, immigration to be big

January 18, 2008

Rep. Owen Donohoe, R-Shawnee, and his party will be pushing many issues this legislative session, but a reform of state health care policy and immigration policy are the two that the 39th District representative is most concerned about, he said.

The Republicans in the Legislature hope to to increase the number of insured Kansans - Donohoe said 90 percent of the states residents have insurance - by allowing workers to each "own" their policies, making the policies portable despite job changes.

Donohoe said he thought this solution was better because it relied on private industry instead of government.

Benefits of this plan, Donohoe said, would include giving incentives to doctors and hospitals to keep their costs down, because consumers would be able to shop for their medical provider, instead of being limited to the few allowed under employer-owned policies. This would have the additional benefit, Donohoe said, of making consumers more personally responsible for their own health and health costs.

Also, he said, consumers should be able to choose with greater specificity the kinds of coverage they want in their health insurance policies.

"That will allow the individual to say, 'I never utilize this service,'" Donohoe said.

"In the best possible system the individual has control of his health dollars and shops for the best care," Donohoe said. "That will force the marketplace to be more competitive, the way business works."

Donohoe is also for the concept of health savings accounts, he said.

Because he also owns and runs a business that sells medical products, Donohoe said he wanted to assure his constituents that he serves on no committees that deal with health-care legislation that could affect his company one way or the other.

Donohoe said there was already a solution in place for illegal immigration, a program called E-verify. It's an Internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security that allows employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of newly hired employees.

A state statute requiring employers to use the system would be a fair way to crack down on employers who hire undocumented workers, Donohoe said. Other states, including North Carolina, Colorado and Arizona, have adopted such a requirement, he said.

Also, Donohoe said, the Legislature may consider measures such as one being discussed in Oklahoma, which is to make "extremely restrictive" the health-care benefits available to undocumented workers, in the hope of reducing their numbers here.

The highlights of the 2007 session, by Donohoe's lights, were the passage of "Alexa's Law," which criminalizes the killing of a fetus outside of abortion or other medical procedures; allowing school districts to adopt local option budgets, which permits districts to spend more than the limit set by the Legislature. Donohoe also cited the passage of the concealed-carry weapons law as notable.

The Legislature approved a $3.5 million increase in funds for Social and Rehabilitative Services, Donohoe said, and this year Republicans hope for increase it by another $25 million.

Donohoe serves on the Federal and State Affairs Committee, the Education Committee and the Economic Development and Tourism Committee.

Regarding issues facing the last of these, Donohoe said he thought the decision by Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Rod Bremby to deny a permit to Sunflower Electric for two coal-burning plants in Western Kansas would be coming up this session.

Despite a recent survey showing that most Kansans - including a majority in the western part of the state - approved of the KDHE decision, Donohoe said the question ought to be revisited by the Legislature with an eye to the balance between the state's future energy needs, what alternative energy sources could generate, and the health concerns related to coal plant pollution.

As for education, Donohoe said there was a sizeable gap between supply and demand for vocational and technical jobs in the state. For instance, he said, a Wichita aerospace manufacturer had a shortage of 4,000 high-paying jobs.

"Not everybody is going to be able to go to college," Donohoe said. "We need to recognize that. We need to educate people for careers. That's something we haven't done a good job on."

On funding for pre-kindergarten, Donohoe said he'd seen a study that showed students who had taken pre-kindergarten classes and those who hadn't began "equalizing out" on test scores by the third and fourth grades.

For Donohoe, like his Republican colleagues, one of his biggest concerns overall is for the state's projected growth in spending. This year is projected to show a $526 million shortfall in state revenues relative to expenses, Donohoe said.

"This is unsustainable," Donohoe said.

In order to counter the deficit trend, he said, the state should encourage the growth of small businesses, control spending and increase competition among small businesses.

This story was corrected from its original version, which in the second paragraph said Donohoe said 90 percent of Kansans were uninsured.

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