“I’m not a politician,” Mary Olson said, but the former Marion mayor still has her hand in politics as the county’s representative to the Silver Haired Legislature, which met Oct. 6 to 8 in Topeka.
Kansas Silver Haired Legislature was established by legislative resolution in 1982 to advocate for issues important to the state’s seniors, which now total about 450,000.
Olson said legislators from 18 counties in planning service area 8, which includes Marion County, met three times prior to the Topeka session to develop positions on 10 issues they were given in May.
Medical use of marijuana received the most attention when the legislators convened in Topeka, Olson said, in part because of increasing talk in some circles advocating for recreational marijuana sales, similar to Colorado.
“I had voted ‘no’ in our committee meeting because I’m for the medical use but I’m not for the recreational use yet,” Olson said.
A bill supporting use of marijuana for medical purposes was passed.
“I think that was the one that got the most ‘no’ votes,” Olson said.
Legislators also want their official counterparts to provide funding for 13 full-time ombudsmen statewide to assist with finding resources for seniors.
“A person would look at all the things that could be of help and they would see how many things you would be qualified to have,” Olson said.
A resolution urging the legislature to accept federal Medicaid expansion money was passed. Gov. Sam Brownback has so far rejected the funds, which would provide access to medical insurance and care for low-income seniors from 60 to 64 years of age who can’t afford health insurance and don’t qualify for Medicare.
Another bill passed advocates increased funding for the Senior Care Act, which provides home-based care and support for seniors.
Silver-haired legislators also want the legislature to repeal a law passed two years ago which could lead to Kansas taking over Medicare from the federal government. Olson said the program should remain a federal responsibility.
“We didn’t think the legislators here in Kansas would do a good job of spending that money,” Olson said. “We said, ‘No, let’s get that done up there.’”
Some discussions in the Silver Haired Legislature were tinged with the same elements of polarization seen with state and federal governments, Olson said.
“Your conservatives have dropped off this side, liberals have fallen off that side,” she said. “How are we going to get them back to the middle and compromise? Communication, transparency, all of that has to come out so my concerns can include your concerns.”
Olson was elected to a two-year term representing Marion County, and one of her primary goals, she said, is to ensure that the voices of seniors throughout Kansas are heard.
“This has been an organization that’s been in the control of about 10 people,” she said. “You can’t just stay in one little area and find out what Kansas seniors need, and that’s what they were doing, I think. We’re somebody who should be heard in Kansas.”