Battle over arming teachers set to begin in Kansas House

The House of Representatives chamber of the Kansas Statehouse is pictured July 23, 2014 in Topeka.

? Three days after thousands of people in several Kansas cities rallied and marched to demand stricter gun control laws, a legislative committee will hold a hearing on a bill that would make it easier for school districts to allow teachers and other staff to carry concealed firearms on campus.

The House Insurance Committee will hear testimony starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday on House Bill 2789, known as the Staff as First Emergency Responders, or SAFER Act, would authorize districts to let certain staff members to carry firearms in schools, if they have a license to carry concealed firearms and undergo additional special training.

Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, who helped draft the bill, said it is intended to address concerns of some insurance companies that have said in the past that they won’t write property and casualty insurance policies if districts allow concealed firearms in their schools.

“It’s trying to make it to where we keep the insurance costs low for the school districts,” he said in an interview Monday.

Among other things, the bill would provide that insurance companies could not refuse to issue a policy solely because the district allows concealed carry, nor could they charge unfair or discriminatory premiums and fees for those that choose to take part in the program.

In addition, in its current form, the bill would create what’s called a “rebuttable presumption” in law that a district could be found negligent in a civil case if it does not allow staff to carry concealed firearms.

Carpenter, however, said he plans to ask the committee for an amendment to delete that portion of the bill.

“Because basically what we want to do is keep this at local control and make it to where school boards have the entire (authority),” he said.

The bill was introduced Wednesday, March 21, in the Federal and State Affairs Committee, which is exempt from most legislative deadlines. But it was referred to the Insurance Committee, which quickly scheduled a hearing for Tuesday.

News about that hearing spread quickly after the Kansas Association of School Boards issued an email alert. Both KASB and United School Administrators issued a joint statement Monday saying they oppose the bill.

A lobbyist for the National Rifle Association said Monday that his group was still studying the bill and had not yet taken an official position on it.

Several lawmakers said they received a flurry of emails over the weekend, mainly from people opposed to the bill.

“From the emails that I’ve received, and heard of others receiving, there are stacks of emails saying, ‘If you do this we will quit,'” Rep. Cindy Neighbor, D-Shawnee, the ranking Democrat on the Insurance Committee, said in an interview. “We already have a teacher shortage. I think it’s a safety issue and I don’t think guns belong in the classroom.”

House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, called the bill “absolutely a terrible idea” and said he doubts it has enough support to pass the House.

“I would hope not. I mean, you would have to have been living under a rock the last month not to see the conversation has changed on guns in schools,” he said. “And the high school and college students have made a huge impact.”