By John Celock
Following heated debate about parental rights, Kansas lawmakers advanced a bill that would prohibit minors from accessing tanning beds.
The state House of Representatives voted 77-40 Wednesday to give preliminary approval to legislation that would not allow those under 18 from using tanning beds. Supporters argued that the bill will reduce cancer rates, citing studies that show teen use of the machines leads to higher cancer rates later in life. Opponents painted the issue as a “nanny state” debate, saying that government should not interfere in what is a parental issue.
“What it does do is it recognizes the fact that at some point and time the Leg determines that a particular activity regarding our young people has to be regulated,” Rep. Bud Estes (R-Dodge City) said in opening debate on the bill.
Estes and other supporters of the legislation said that lawmakers needed to step up to address the potential causes of melanoma that have been tied to the tanning machines. Supporters said that the House Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony from doctors – including cancer specialists – who said that the use of tanning beds by teens will increase melanoma rates by the age of 40.
Estes, who noted he owned a tanning salon 30 years ago, said that the testimony on cancer rates helped sway him to support the ban. He said that he had previously had concerns over the bill and if it would negatively impact small business. He said that his research swayed him to see it not impacting business and noted that it was similar to similar laws in place about minors purchasing alcohol or cigarettes.
Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore (D-Kansas City) said that the cancer rate testimony is “not junk science” and that the state needed to step in to prevent cancer rates from increasing. She noted that with the country spending money on cancer prevention, the state needed to implement a law reducing cancer rates in other areas. She said that parents would not bring their children to other places that could lead to cancer.
“I don’t think anyone in this room would bring their children to a room lined with asbestos,” Wolfe Moore said. “I don’t think anyone would drive their child to the nearest 7-11 to buy cigarettes.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 11 states and the District of Columbia have implemented tanning bed bans for minors.
Opponents of the bill described it as government overreach and said that parents are best equipped to talk to their children about the risks associated with tanning beds. Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) said that as the mother of two teen daughters, she wants to have that right to talk her children on the issue.
Williams said attitudes towards tanning in general have changed. She said that when she was a teen, many people tanned regularly in tanning salons, but she noted her daughters and their friends do not tan regularly. She said that teens understand the risks associated with tanning, along with other cultural changes.
Williams stressed that she wanted to retain rights as a parent.
“There are many risks that exist in our lives, it is my job as a parent to teach that,” Williams said. “I don’t need the state of Kansas to educate on those issues.”
Wolfe Moore told her colleagues that not every parent will teach the risks.
“Parents don’t have the right to expose their children to cancer,” Wolfe Moore said. “Some parents may not understand the risks.”
The bill narrowly passed the House Health and Human Services Committee, with Rep. Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita), the committee’s chairman, breaking a tie vote. Hawkins told his colleagues that he had opposed the bill at first but more research into the cancer issues led him to support the ban.
“I will be thinking about my two daughters who have not been a sun tanning bed but hopefully won’t,” Hawkins said. “My daughters are pretty important to me and I won’t sentence them to death.”
Rep. Brett Hildabrand (R-Shawnee), a health committee member, said that he found issues with the bill. He said he believes the bill is government overreach, noting that parents can still give a child alcohol in their own home, and should be able to sign off on tanning beds.
Hildabrand cited concerns that the bill does not have an exemption for medical uses of tanning beds, saying that doctors have prescribed tanning as a treatment for certain conditions. Hildabrand motioned for the bill to be sent back to the Health and Human Services Committee saying “I do not believe this bill is ready for prime time.”
Hildabrand’s motion drew immediate criticism from both Hawkins and Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita), the top Democrat on the health panel. Hawkins said the bill was “ready for prime time” while Ward said the committee held extensive hearings and debate on the issue and urged his colleagues not to “hide” from a vote.
Hildabrand’s motion died 27-91.
House Democratic Agenda Chairman Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) questioned Estes if the committee heard testimony about medical needs for tanning. Estes said that the issue did not come up in committee.
Whipple said that if the bill was to ban tanning beds from the state he would be opposed but said that issue at hand was limited to protecting children from “awful stuff that causes cancer.” He said that teens can tan in other ways.
“We are talking about children,” Whipple said. “These kids can still go get a tan, they can sit outside and tan the old fashioned way.”