Brownback seeks $24M to ban guns at state hospitals

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback answers questions from the media Wednesday, April 26, 2017, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

? Gov. Sam Brownback is asking lawmakers for $24 million over the next two years to provide armed guards and other security measures to keep people from carrying concealed firearms into state mental hospitals.

The money is needed to comply with a provision of the state’s concealed-carry law that goes into effect July 1 that will allow people to carry concealed weapons into nearly all public facilities unless there are adequate security measures in place to prevent anyone from carrying weapons into the building.

Brownback’s request includes $810,000 for one-time costs of buying metal detectors and firearms for the security guards and $11.7 million a year in ongoing costs for the salaries of 180 full-time positions to staff the security posts. The state hospitals included in the plan are in Larned and Osawatomie and in facilities for the developmentally disabled in Parsons and Topeka.

The administration made the request Thursday during a joint meeting of the House and Senate budget committees, and it immediately sparked outrage among members who have been pressing this year to permanently exempt hospitals, college and university campuses and publicly owned health care facilities from the law.

Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, in particular questioned why the administration didn’t ask for money in the current fiscal year to buy the equipment and begin training so the security would be ready to be in place when the law takes effect July 1.

“If we’re going to train existing personnel that are not authorized to carry now, they’ll have to get into some training and we’ll have to pay for that before this fiscal year is up,” she said.

The law allowing widespread carrying of concealed firearms, without a requirement for a permit or training, was passed in 2013. But municipal governments, colleges and universities, and the state hospitals were allowed a four-year exemption before they were required to comply. Most of those exemptions expire on June 30.

Cody Gwaltney, legislative liaison for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, the agency in charge of the hospitals, said he didn’t know why the agency had waited until now to request money for enhanced security because he has only worked for the agency since November.

Earlier in the session, though, KDADS Secretary Tim Keck asked lawmakers to pass a permanent exemption for the state psychiatric hospitals, and Gwaltney said that is still the agency’s position.

“We would prefer we have a permanent exemption the same way the Kansas School for the Deaf is exempted,” he said. “That’s actually the amendment we would like to see in one of the gun bills that’s going around, that we could have that permanent exemption so we don’t have to fight this every year.”

But Rep. Erin Davis, R-Olathe, said that was an unrealistic approach to take.

“I think it’s pretty short-sighted to come to us at this late date and say we’re hoping to be exempted when in fact, current statute says you are not exempted,” Davis said. “We have about 60 days to prepare for this to be implemented and the anticipation of a statute change is not something I believe is prudent.”

Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said that if KDADS thinks state psychiatric hospitals should be exempted, the agency should consider supporting exemptions for other health care facilities.

“With the lack of mental health resources in our communities, many of our emergency rooms are becoming holding centers for people with mental illnesses, often prior to being admitted to Osawatomie or Larned,” she said.

Brownback’s policy director, Brandon Smith, however, said the governor’s office is not asking lawmakers to make any changes in the concealed carry law, for state hospitals or other public health care facilities.

“So the governor is OK with spending, what, $12 million this year and $11 million ongoing just so we (can’t) have guns on the campuses of our state psychiatric facilities?” Kelly asked.

Smith said the administration was not wading into the politics of the gun debate. “This budget amendment is really just a reflection of our responsibilities under state law and our desire to meet those responsibilities depending on what current law states.”

The request for added security at state hospitals was part of a package of budget amendments that the Brownback administration will seek when lawmakers return on Monday, May 1, for the start of the final wrap-up portion of the session. Some of those amendments reflect new, updated estimates of caseload costs for human services such as Medicaid and child welfare programs.

The issue of guns in hospitals and college campuses, however, has been bottled up in committees in both the House and the Senate. House Democrats tried unsuccessfully in March to force a bill onto the floor for full debate, but GOP leaders gave an assurance that there would be a full debate on the concealed carry law before the session ends.