June 13, 2024

Students banned from Kansas Statehouse over Medicaid protest

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Police on Wednesday barred three college students from the Kansas Statehouse for a year after they helped hang large banners inside saying that top Republican legislators who oppose expanding Medicaid have “blood on their hands.”

The protest came a week after supporters forced a debatein the GOP-controlled House on Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s plan for expanding Medicaid health coverage to as many as 150,000 additional residents. The House approved a modified version over Republican leaders’ objections, but the Senate has yet to consider the measure.

The four banners hung briefly from fifth-floor railings in the Statehouse rotunda and stretched past the fourth floor. A legislative policy requires protesters to get permission before hanging banners, and Tom Day, director of lawmakers’ Administrative Services office, removed the signs within minutes.

Capitol Police Officer Scott Whitsell said he imposed the yearlong ban for the students because they violated the policy. He said if they return before then, they could be cited for criminal trespassing.

“There’s an expectation of how people act when they’re in the building,” Whitsell said.

The ban applies to Kansas State University students Jonathan Cole, Nate Faflick and Katie Sullivan, though two other non-student protesters were involved.

Sullivan said she sees the state’s failure to expand Medicaid as a crisis that denies some people health coverage that could save their lives and top Republicans are “holding us back.”

As for the ban, she said: “I’m not sure whether or not it is legal.”

The Capitol Police are under the Kansas Highway Patrol, and the governor appoints its leader. Asked about the ban, Kelly spokeswoman Ashley All said in a text, “We’re looking into it.”

House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, a conservative Wichita Republican named on one of the banners, said he wasn’t offended but called the protest “ridiculous.” He and other Republicans view expansion as too costly for the state.

Hawkins later issued a statement calling the protesters “extremist demonstrators.”

Reaction to the protests among expansion supporters was mixed.

State Sen. Barbara Bollier, a Kansas City-area Democrat, said the protesters were trying to be heard in the face of GOP leaders’ opposition and, “no one was harmed.”

Democratic Rep. John Carmichael of Wichita said he understands the protesters’ anger but “it does not help the cause when folks do things like that in the Capitol.”