Politics & Government

Brownback wants $24 million to keep guns out of psychiatric hospitals

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback answers questions from the media on Wednesday, April 26, 2017, at the Statehouse in Topeka.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback answers questions from the media on Wednesday, April 26, 2017, at the Statehouse in Topeka. Associated Press

Gov. Sam Brownback wants more than $24 million over the next two years to keep guns out of state hospitals, frustrating lawmakers who question how such security measures can be put into place by a July 1 deadline.

Lawmakers and Brownback have the power to change the law – and avoid spending millions – but attempts to amend it have faltered.

A 2013 state law allows concealed weapons at public hospitals and college campuses beginning July 1. That includes the state’s psychiatric hospitals in Larned and Osawatomie.

Guns may be kept out if buildings provide security measures such as metal detectors and armed guards. Storage for weapons may also be provided.

In a budget request released Thursday, Brownback asks for $12.5 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, and $11.7 million in the year after, to meet the security requirements.

The request includes $810,000 in one-time costs for metal detectors. About 180 full-time armed guard positions would be needed, amounting to $11.7 million in annual costs.

Lawmakers voiced frustration with the Brownback administration over the request during a joint meeting of the House and Senate budget committees. They appeared skeptical that the metal detectors could be put in place and guards trained by July 1.

“I think it was pretty apparent there has been no planning and no real effort to get prepared for July 1. There’s no training program in place,” Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-Kansas City, said.

The budget request doesn’t include any money in the current fiscal year for training.

“If we’re going to train existing personnel who are not authorized to carry now, they’re going to have to get into training. We’re going to have to pay for that before the fiscal year is up,” Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, said.

Attempts to change the gun law have so far not advanced through the legislative process. The Kansas State Rifle Association has opposed exempting hospitals from the current law.

Under questioning from lawmakers, the governor’s policy director, Brandon Smith, said the governor “is not lobbying for a particular change” in the law.

The Legislature as a whole supports exempting hospitals from allowing concealed weapons, said Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park.

“Give them an exemption, let the signs stay up and have that feeling that there are no guns on mental health campuses,” Denning said.

It’s unclear whether Brownback would sign such an exemption if the Legislature changed the law.

Tim Keck, secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, told lawmakers on Wednesday he wants an exemption. Keck made the comments during tours of Osawatomie State Hospital and Lansing Correctional Facility.

Patients are at the facility involuntarily, locked in their units undergoing what Keck called “active treatments” where staff are engaged with the patients and the patients are involved in groups throughout the day.

“And so I want you to take note of that because we have asked for a continued exemption on concealed carry,” Keck said.

Brownback spokeswoman Melika Willoughby wouldn’t say whether the governor supports the concealed carry law as it is currently written or wants state hospitals to be exempted. She said the governor will review any legislation sent to him.

Wolfe Moore questioned whether lawmakers would be able to gather enough support to override a veto.

“Considering the muscle the NRA is willing to flex, I think override is what becomes very difficult,” Wolfe Moore said.

The budget request doesn’t include the University of Kansas Hospital in metro Kansas City. The hospital will have to allow guns on campus beginning July 1 unless it pays for security measures.

Denning said he favors an exemption for the KU hospital because it competes with private hospitals and needs similar regulations to stay competitive.

Contributing: Bryan Lowry of the Kansas City Star

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman