Kansas legislators concerned about health issues are doing something unusual in politics these days: getting bipartisan.
Veteran legislators from both parties who lead the House and Senate health committees have formed the Healthy Kansans Caucus.
The first meeting attracted about a dozen lawmakers Friday to a conference room at the Kansas Health Institute in Topeka.
Many of them were elected for the first time in November. One of the freshmen, Rep. Tom Cox, said the new crop of legislators are more interested in problem-solving than partisan wrangling.
“People are up here interested in learning more about what the problems are and figuring out what the solutions are and less focused on ‘How do I push my specific ideology? How do I force the solution to match my ideology?’” said Cox, a Republican from Shawnee. “Instead they’re focused on ‘How do we find the right solution for the state of Kansas?’ And I think this was a great example of the stuff we’ll be seeing coming this legislative session.”
The group’s first meeting included a presentation by Tatiana Lin, senior policy analyst at the health institute, about social determinants of health — the many factors that affect a person’s well-being.
It spurred discussion about balancing the need for people to take personal responsibility for their health through diet and exercise choices with government’s role in making that easier through services like public transportation.
Cox told the rest of the caucus about losing 15 pounds while living in Hungary for a few months because he walked everywhere. He said when he returned to the United States he quickly regained all the weight, even though he was generally eating healthier.
“You don’t realize how sedentary you become so quickly (in the U.S.),” Cox said.
The group plans to meet every two weeks during the legislative session. Future topics include county health rankings, early childhood trauma and data-informed health policy decisions.
Cox said the policymakers who show up aren’t going to agree on everything, especially when it comes time to make laws. There will be divisions even within the two parties, he said, but they won’t be as crippling to debate as in recent years.
“At the end of the day I think people are going to talk about it,” Cox said. “I think those conversations are really going to happen this time.”
Andy Marso is a reporter for KCUR’s Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics in Kansas. You can reach him on Twitter @andymarso. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.