By John Celock
Kansas lawmakers are criticizing the head of the state’s mental hospitals for his new plan to hope for a last minute exemption to the state’s guns in hospitals law with less than 60 days before it takes effect.
Kansas Aging and Disability Services Secretary Tim Keck told the House Appropriations Committee that he plans to ask the state attorney general for a delay in the July 1 deadline to either allow guns at state hospitals or put in place security measures. Last week Keck asked lawmakers for $24 million to start implementing the security measures after July 1, saying that he waited thinking lawmakers would pass an exemption to the measure. Keck’s desire for an additional exemption added fuel to legislative anger at his $24 million budget request, four years after the law was passed. Keck also admitted to having a plan for July 1 that he has shared with some lawmakers, after other lawmakers pressed him Friday.
“Your plan is to just ignore the law and ask the attorney general for an exemption and hope,” Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) said to Keck. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Guns in hospitals and college campuses has been one of the hot button issues in the state Legislature this year, as colleges, state mental hospitals and the University of Kansas Hospital have been pressing lawmakers for exemptions to the July 1 deadline. The four-year-old law requires that guns be allowed in these facilities unless security measures, including metal detectors are put into place before July 1. Hospitals and colleges have argued that guns do not belong in their facilities and the security requirement will be too costly. Supporters of the law have argued that the current measure of signs saying that guns are not allowed do not prevent guns and that allowing concealed carry would increase safety.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday advanced legislation to allow for an exemption.
Keck admitted Friday that it was a “strategic mistake on his part” not to put a plan in place for July 1, saying “I never thought we’d have guns in state hospitals.” Minutes later, Keck appeared to reverse himself under intense questioning from Claeys, who pressed Keck on whether or not he had a plan in place. Keck then told lawmakers that a plan was in place but then declined to explain his plan when pressed by Claeys.
“You’ve got that here today, then go ahead and present it,” Claeys said.
Keck later admitted that the plan he would not disclose had already been presented to state senators.
Keck kept refusing Claeys’ repeated requests to present the plan on Friday, saying that he would present it later. Appropriations Committee Chairman Troy Waymaster (R-Russell) then said that Keck could provide the plan later.
At the end of the meeting, Waymaster asked Keck to deliver his plan to for the July 1 implementation date in place by Monday. Keck says that he has already provided a copy of the plan to the Senate Ways and Means Committee and would provide the same plan to the House Appropriations Committee by Monday. It was not explained why Keck or his staff have not provided the plan to both legislative chambers and why House committee members had to ask for a plan already presented to the Senate.
House Appropriations Committee Vice Chairwoman Erin Davis (R-Olathe) earlier in the meeting said that she believes that Keck’s behavior indicates that there is no plan in place. She said that if Keck was trying to have security measures in place to comply with the law on July 1, he would have asked for funds for the current fiscal year, which expires on June 30 and not for the next two fiscal years.
“You are not asking for anything in 17 which says to me that you are not doing anything in advance,” Davis said.
Last week, Keck presented lawmakers with a plan that would hire armed police officers for entrances to the four mental health facilities that his department operates, along with metal detectors and metal detectors wands for those entries. The request caused anger from House and Senate budget writers, who said that it was too late and too much money.
In a series of questions, Davis pressed Keck for answers on his four-year delay and why he did not ask for the funds last year when he asked lawmakers for extra funding to renovate Osawatomie and Larned State Hospitals. Keck said that he didn’t want to ask for too much and felt that lawmakers would have given him an exemption.
“We won’t be ready by July 1,” Keck said. “The reason I never brought it last year is we were asking for more money for the state hospitals and I never thought we’d be in this place.”
Davis’ line of questioning came right before Claeys’ questions.
Keck said that he believes that he can ask the attorney general’s office for the exemption for the hospitals but he did not say if he would get the exemption. If Attorney General Derek Schmidt (R) were to decline his request, guns would be allowed in the state hospitals. Keck did not address how his department would react if Schmidt declined a request. He just said that he could start implementing the security measures.
Keck also admitted that is he not sure if Schmidt has that power.
“I don’t know if they can,” he said.
Davis reminded Keck that the he has not implemented an existing law.
“You will agree that this is the law and it will be in place in 60 days,” she said.
Davis also pressed Keck if he knows of other hospitals looking to have plans in place for July 1, and Keck said he is not aware of any hospitals preparing for July 1.
Rep. Kevin Jones (R-Wellsville) told Keck that he did not understand why he did not have a plan in place after four years.
Keck told lawmakers that he supports gun rights but not guns in state hospitals.
Claeys reminded Keck that his job in the executive branch is to implement laws passed by legislators. He said that debating his beliefs on the law is not what he should be doing.
“The law is the law,” Claeys said. “You can debate the law all you want but your lack of planning is what is sitting before us today.”