Politics & Government

Legislature passes bill to prohibit guns in hospitals – but would Brownback sign it?

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Gov. Sam Brownback isn’t saying whether he would sign a bill the Legislature passed Thursday that would prohibit guns in mental health and public hospitals.

Lawmakers gave conflicting messages on whether Brownback would sign or veto House Bill 2278.

For his part, Brownback wouldn’t say when he spoke with reporters before debates began.

“I want to see what takes place with it. I’m watching it carefully,” Brownback said.

Asked to clarify his position, a spokeswoman for the governor said only that he will review any legislation that comes to his desk.

The Senate passed the bill 24-16. The House passed it 91-33.

Hospitals are able to prohibit concealed weapons now, but they will be allowed inside beginning July 1 under current law. The hospitals would have to install metal detectors with armed guards at entrances to keep guns out.

State mental health hospitals will also have to allow weapons unless security measures are implemented. The agency that oversees the mental health hospitals estimates that would cost more than $12 million.

The bill sparked impassioned debates in both chambers.

“I hope that the day does not come when we turn on our television set or our radio and we hear of a shooting at one of these hospitals,” said Rep. Randy Garber, R-Sabetha, who opposed the bill.

If the bill doesn’t become law, the entrances to KU Medical Center would become like an airport security line, said Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-Kansas City.

“Can you just imagine rushing to the hospital … and having to wait in line to get through?” Wolfe Moore said.

Some conservative senators who voted against the bill say they support the current law allowing concealed carry in the buildings. They contended that the bill would stop only law-abiding citizens and would do nothing to prohibit criminals from carrying weapons into the facilities.

“If we look at this history of the hospitals and what they’ve done, we’ve had sticker protection for years,” Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, said of the no-gun labels found at hospital entrances.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, supported the bill. He said allowing guns at the KU Medical Center would put the hospital at a disadvantage and harm its recruiting efforts.

Denning said he was more interested in health care and economics than his rating from the National Rifle Association.

“Anybody with common sense would not want guns in mental health hospitals. It’s almost impossible to defend,” Denning said.

Brownback support disputed

Earlier in the debate, the Senate voted 16-24 to reject an amendment brought by Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, who said it was supported by the NRA.

“I refuse to be held hostage to the governor’s pen,” said Sen. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills.

The amendment would have allowed guns in the parking lots and reception areas of the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, and state mental health hospitals. But the hospitals could prohibit guns elsewhere in the building.

Wagle said Brownback told her this weekend that he would support the bill if her amendment was adopted.

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth, said he had been told by a representative for the governor that Brownback would veto the bill without the amendment.

“He also said he would veto, over the weekend, anything else,” Wagle said of Brownback.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said there is no assurance the bill will become law. Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, said no one can guarantee the governor will sign it.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, carried the bill on the Senate floor. She said her understanding is that Brownback will support the underlying bill.

Brownback mediated negotiations between the NRA and KU Medical Center, as well as the Kansas Hospital Association, earlier in the week. The negotiations stalled.

“I thought we were getting close, and then it didn’t work out,” Brownback said.

The House approved the bill using a parliamentary procedure that didn’t allow amendments.

Senators rejected a range of amendments, however, including one that would allow public colleges to continue to prohibit concealed weapons after July 1.

Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, brought the amendment, but didn’t support it. He said he wanted senators to have the opportunity to discuss the issue.

Proponents of continuing the prohibition on concealed weapons on campuses mostly voted against the amendment, agreeing with McGinn that the bill needed to remain clean. But they said they hope lawmakers will have a chance to vote on a bill dealing with campus carry before the session is over.

“While we did it for this group and public (hospital) buildings, I hope we can look in the future to do it for our college campuses,” said Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita.

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman