Medicaid expansion supporters on Friday sent thousands of leaflets fluttering through the Capitol in a demonstration targeting a trio of senators.
The postcard-sized flyers, which were dropped from the fifth-floor railing at the interior of the Statehouse, were designed as hospital bills on behalf of 150,000 Kansans who could benefit from Medicaid expansion.
Three variations featured photos and names of Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, Sen. Larry Alley, R-Winfield, and Sen. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita.
Mike Oxford, a Douglas County resident and member of the disability advocacy group ADAPT, said the point of the demonstration was to send a signal that the issue of Medicaid expansion isn't going away.
"We've waited long enough," Oxford said. "We've lost billions of dollars. We now know that people have died. People have ruined their finances. Their health has suffered."
Senate leadership has stiff-armed attempts to hold a hearing or vote on Medicaid expansion. A procedural vote earlier this week indicated a majority of senators would support expansion if given the opportunity.
At least 24 votes were needed to put a Medicaid expansion bill into play, but supporters fell one vote shy after Alley switched his vote from yes to no.
Crews quickly swept up the papers. Inside the Senate chambers, Alley was amused by the demonstration.
"I think it's great," the senator said.
Alley joined Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, and Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, R-Baxter Springs, in an informal conversation about the protest. Alley lamented that the flyers with his name featured a photo of Suellentrop. Baumgardner complained about grammatical problems and questionable stats included on the flyers.
"It's free and inaccurate speech," Baumgardner said.
"You get what you pay for," Hilderbrand replied.
They questioned whether littering the Capitol was a useful way to advance conversation on the issue.
"If you want to have a dialogue," Alley said, "don't do it on social media or with a post-it note flying over the Capitol with the wrong picture on it."
Logan Stenseng, a University of Kansas student from El Dorado, said the demonstration was an attempt to provide reassurance to supporters of Medicaid expansion who are running out of time to get a plan passed this year.
Denning has said he is committed to working on a Medicaid expansion plan before the Legislature returns next year. Stenseng said such a delay "is to basically deny coverage."
"When the Senate leadership takes extreme precautions in trying to kill bills in the committee process, this is our way of pushing this issue and making sure it's of prominence and people are aware of it," Stenseng said.
There was no indication any of the protestors was detained by Capitol Police or Statehouse security. Earlier this year, students from Kansas State University were briefly banned from the Capitol after unfurling banners that said GOP leaders had blood on their hands for opposing Medicaid expansion. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on their behalf to challenge rules that prohibit such demonstrations.
Oxford acknowledged the point of Friday's demonstration was to get attention.
"This kind of stuff can go weird directions," Oxford said. "How it's actually perceived, especially initially, we don't have a lot of control over. But what we do want to have control over is our level of commitment.
"We're willing to try anything and everything, including guerrilla tactics, frankly, to keep the issue alive and show support for people who may be on the fence."