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Kansas racial justice panel recommends Medicaid expansion

TOPEKA, Kan. – A Kansas racial justice panel appointed by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has recommended expanding Medicaid, adding another income tax bracket for top-income earners, restoring a food sales tax rebate and banning Native American mascots and team names in public schools.

The 15-member Commission on Racial Justice and Equity created the recommendations after meeting with Kansas Department of Commerce officials, Kansas Department of Health and Environment staff and others, according to the report. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly established the commission last year in response to the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The report, released Wednesday, comes months after the panel crafted recommendations primarily focused on policing.

Some advocates in Kansas have pushed for Medicaid expansion for a decade. Kelly promised this year to continue to push to expand Medicaid in Kansas, despite top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature opposing it.

The panel wants to expand Medicaid eligibility to 138% of the federal poverty level. The panel cited an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimating that about 82,000 uninsured non-elderly adults in the state would become eligible for coverage if Kansas expanded its Medicaid program.

The commission is also proposing to expand an income tax credit for poor families to offset the sales taxes they pay on food, so that it would be available to as many as 400,000 additional households. The current credit was set in 2013, amid former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s experiment in slashing state income tax rates, as a way to offset the cost of those cuts to the state.

The report also recommends for Kansas legislators to pass legislation to create a fourth bracket for families filing jointly with incomes over 100,000 a year to “more equitably distribute the tax burden.”

Lawmakers dropped the number of state income tax brackets to just two in 2012 as part of Brownback’s tax-cutting experiment, and it went back to three brackets in 2017, when most of the experiment was repealed following persistent budget problems.

Earlier this year, the Shawnee Mission and Atchison school districts dropped Native American mascots. The Wichita school board also voted to eliminate a high school’s Redskins team name.

The panel recommends against mascots with Native American imagery and team names – unless used by tribal educational institutions, such as tribal schools. The report recommends for lawmakers in Kansas to model legislation after a bill Democratic Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed into law last month directing local school boards to ban “racially discriminatory” mascots, logos and names.

The recommendations in Kansas were among about 50 on a variety of health and education topics. Many of them would require support from a Republican-led state Legislature.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. said in an email to The Associated Press that he hasn’t read the report yet. Senate President Ty Masterson’s spokesperson, Mike Pirner, said Masterson hasn’t reviewed it either.

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