By John Celock
Kansas lawmakers voted Thursday to advance legislation that would allow public hospitals – including mental hospitals –to prohibit the concealed carry of guns.
The Senate voted 24-16, following lengthy debate, to advance the gun ban; a month ahead of a July 1 deadline for hospitals to start allowing concealed carry. The move – which covers the state’s mental hospitals and the University of Kansas Hospital – came after negotiations between the National Rifle Association, KU Hospital and Gov. Sam Brownback (R) to establish a compromise agreement on the gun issue fell apart when KU Hospital officials walked away from the negotiating table. Hospital officials have argued that guns should not be allowed at hospitals or mental hospitals, while Second Amendment advocates have argued that guns would provide additional safety. The state House of Representatives passed the legislation 91-33 later on Thursday.
“You have people who are very unstable,” Sen. Carolyn McGinn (R-Sedgwick) said about the mental hospitals. “I don’t think it is an environment where patients should not be able to reach for a gun, just as we don’t have guns in our prison system.”
The Senate rejected a series of amendments from Second Amendment supporters to add other policy provisions to the legislation or make procedural motions in an attempt to kill the legislation. The bill was crafted by the Senate Ways and Means Committee last month and was briefly debated by the full Senate before being sent back to the budget-writing panel. The bill was housed in the budget committee was greeted by opposition from pro-gun senators, who said that it should have been handled by the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, which traditionally handles gun policy. McGinn and Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) said that since the bill also touched on state spending, the legislation should be considered by a budget-focused panel.
A 2013 state law gave KU Hospital, the state’s mental hospitals and public colleges until July 1 of this year to implement security measures in order to prevent guns in their facilities. The measure has garnered opposition from gun control advocates, hospital officials and college leaders in the state. The state Department of Aging and Disability Services, which runs the mental hospitals, earlier this year submitted a $24 million plan to implement the security measures. KU Hospital officials have said that installing metal detectors at all entrances would have a large fiscal impact for the facility.
The NRA and KU Hospital had met with Brownback to discuss a compromise agreement which would have allowed for guns in common areas of the hospitals but not in other areas determined by the hospitals, with the guns being stored in lockers during that time. Wagle offered am unsuccessful floor amendment to implement the plan, saying that it would have a better fiscal impact for the state and would address the concerns of Second Amendment advocates in the state.
“The NRA did not need to come to the table. Their bill passed in 2013 with the support of many Kansans. They came to the table because we have a financial problem,” Wagle said. “They chose to allow us to exempt all mental health facilities and they choose to offer KU Hospital a new plan. I think this is a good amendment for all those people in your district who deeply respect our Second Amendment rights.”
Wagle indicated that passage of the bill with the amendment would mean Brownback would likely sign the legislation. She said that he is likely to veto the bill that passed.
Opponents of the Wagle amendment said that it did not represent a compromise since KU Hospital and other health care groups were not behind it.
“This amendment does not offer a compromise. This amendment comes to us with the support of the NRA,” Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) said. “ It is not agreed to by KU Hospital, the Kansas Hospital Association, nursing homes. We should not lose sight of that fact.”
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) said that he believed that anything short of the original bill would harm KU Hospital, which he said has achieved a turn around from the 1980s when he said it was considered one of the worst hospitals in the region. He noted that now it employs over 10,000 and is considered one of the best hospitals in the country. Denning’s comment were similar to ones made by KU Hospital officials to the House Federal and State Affairs Committee earlier this year during a hearing on the issue.
Denning said that the issue was to him an economic development one, related to recruitment and retention of staff at the hospital. KU Hospital officials have said that they are worried about the ability to recruit and retain staff if guns were allowed in the hospital.
“We are always fussing around here with economic development and now we’re letting the NRA fuss around with something,” Denning said. “Economically this message is something we don’t need.”
Wagle’s amendment failed 16-24.
Lawmakers debated the merits of the current system, which allows guns to be banned based on a sticker on the door declaring the facility a “gun free zone”, versus allowing guns or putting metal detectors into place. Gun rights advocates have long argued that a sticker on the door does not prohibit guns, while supporters argued Thursday that the staff wants the stickers since they will tell people not to bring guns in.
Supporters of concealed carry in hospitals said that someone with a gun could combat a criminal with a gun.
“I have heard repeatedly that crimes happen in gun free zones because the criminals know that people are not conceal carrying,” Sen. Rob Olson (R-Olathe) said. “We’re taking away the rights of law abiding citizens to protect themselves.”
Sen. Ty Masterson (R-Andover) brought an amendment to allow a concealed carry ban at public colleges, but noted that he was bringing the amendment in order to poll senators on the issue and that he would be voting against the amendment. Hensley questioned Masterson if the amendment was brought in order to allow the NRA to rate senators on their vote. Masterson said that while he believed the NRA would likely score the vote, he did not consult with them about it.
Hensley said that he had been told that the NRA would not score the vote on college concealed carry. NRA lobbyist Travis Couture-Lovelady took to Twitter to question where Hensley was getting his information.
The Senate killed a series of amendments from pro-gun rights senators including an amendment from Sen. Larry Alley (R-Winfield) to allow local school districts to implement gun safety classes based on either the Eddie Eagle gun safety program from the NRA or a gun safety education program from state wildlife officials.
“Even kids that don’t have guns in their homes, there is a significant chance they will encounter guns in the homes of their friends,” Alley said.
Opponents of Alley’s amendment questioned who would teach the classes, saying they had concerns that the instructors would not have taken classes in teaching and instruction and would not be able to control a class in order to teach a gun safety curriculum. Sen. John Doll (R-Garden City), a former teacher, said he wanted assurances that only certified teachers would teach the classes. Alley stressed that the local school districts would have the option of implementing the program and deciding who teaches them. Doll’s comments were similar to comments made by groups affiliated with teachers on proposals to allow alternative certification plans for teachers without degrees in education.
The Senate Rules Committee ruled that Alley’s amendment was not germane in the bill.
The Senate also rejected a motion by Olson to send the bill to both the Ways and Means Committee and the Federal and State Affairs Committee for consideration. Such a move could potentially kill the bill due to the waning days in the legislative session and opposition to the legislation in the Federal and State Affairs Committee. The Senate also rejected a motion from Sen. Dennis Pyle (R-Hiawatha) to strip the bill’s enacting clause, which would have rendered it dead.
Lawmakers debated how far lawmakers can go with restrictions on where guns could be carried. Sen. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills), a gun control advocate, said that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that restrictions can be made.
“Our Constitution does not guarantee the right to carry any gun, any where, any time,” Bollier said, echoing comments she made during last month’s gun debate.
Masterson said that Bollier’s interpretation of the ruling, which was written by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, was wrong. He said that certain restrictions could be put into place on types of weapons that could be carried but not on the ability to carry weapons for personal protection.
“It is very different than right to protect myself,” Masterson said. “I will not carry a machine gun into a church or throw hand grenades.”
Under legislative procedures used to consider the bill, the state House could not make moves to amend the bill, only vote to pass the bill or set up a conference committee with the the Senate. The procedure, involved the Senate inserting the gun legislation into a previously passed House bill, a procedure – known as a “gut and go” – is used to speed up consideration of legislation in the waning days of the legislative session and to prevent one chamber from taking up amendments.
Opponents of the measure said that KU Hospital officials walked away from a possible compromise.
“The problem is the NRA offered compromise language and it was the hospital that did not want to continue the discussion or compromise,” Sen. Steve Fitzgerald (R-Leavenworth) said.
Supporters of the measure, however, said that the legislation, not a compromise, was needed to protect KU Hospital, including the recruitment and retention of staff.
“I rise on behalf of the 10,000 employees and the 10s of thousands of patients,” Sen. Pat Pettey (D-Kansas City) said. “This will allow the University of Kansas Hospital to be the same as every other hospital in the Kansas City metro area.”