Lawmakers signaled Thursday that they could exempt Kansas psychiatric hospitals from a law requiring them to allow concealed handguns.
Gov. Sam Brownback has requested an additional $24 million in spending over the next two budget years on upgrades needed to provide security at state mental health hospitals and facilities for people with developmental disabilities.
A state law taking effect July 1 will allow people to carry concealed guns into any public building that is not secured by armed guards and metal detectors.
An attempt in early April to force a House vote on the exemption bill came up well short. But several lawmakers say the need to close $900 million in gaps between revenue and proposed spending in the next two budget years and rewrite a school funding formula declared inadequate by the Kansas Supreme Court put the concealed carry issue in a different light.
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said lawmakers “of all stripes” are opposed to spending money to add security at the state psychiatric hospitals.
“If they are going to spend the money, they want to spend it on the patients,” Denning said.
Denning also wants the University of Kansas Hospital included in the exemption bill. The hospital estimated it would have to spend as much as $33 million to secure its campus.
Forcing KU Hospital to spend millions on security would hinder its ability to compete with private hospitals in the Kansas City metropolitan area and nationally, he said.
“They compete with those hospital systems locally. They compete with Mayo and Anderson on a national basis, and they need to be able to have the same regulations that those big institutions have if they are going to be able to compete toe to toe,” Denning said, referring to the Mayo Clinic and MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, a Kansas City Democrat who works at the KU Hospital, said the potential cost to taxpayers will likely increase support for a bill that would exempt certain public buildings from the concealed carry law.
“I think the votes are there to do a pretty broad exemption,” Wolfe Moore said.
But she’s not sure whether legislators would override Brownback if he vetoes the bill.
“That’s where it gets tough,” she said.
Lawmakers indicated Thursday that other items in the governor’s budget recommendations could face challenges.
The House Appropriations Committee almost immediately rejected his proposals to sweep $13 million from the Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund over the next two budget years. The KEY Fund directs money from Kansas’ share of a settlement with major tobacco companies to the Children’s Initiatives Fund, which uses it for early childhood education programs.
Lawmakers originally intended that the KEY Fund invest any money not used for children’s programs, with the idea of creating a sustainable funding source for those programs. That hasn’t happened in recent years, however, as the Legislature repeatedly used any extra money to fill budget holes.
Annie McKay, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, said the governor’s sweeps would have held funding for children’s programs at its current level, but that isn’t sufficient. Kansas doesn’t have enough spots for all of the at-risk children who qualify for early education programs, she said.
“We’re missing out on opportunities to help Kansas kids,” she said.
Jim McLean and Meg Wingerter are reporters for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.