TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Gov. Sam Brownback proposed Thursday spending an additional $24 million over two years on armed guards and other security measures that would allow Kansas to continue banning concealed guns at state hospitals for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.
The proposal immediately renewed a debate over allowing concealed weapons in public hospitals, mental health centers, state universities and colleges. A state law will require such facilities to allow concealed guns inside starting July 1 if the buildings don't have extra security measures such as guards and metal detectors.
Brownback submitted his proposal to the GOP-controlled Legislature, even though administration officials have worked with lawmakers on revising the gun-rights law. While many legislators want to change the law, gun-rights groups have strongly resisted. Brownback signed the 2013 concealed carry measure into law and is a strong gun-rights supporter.
House and Senate budget committee members who reviewed the proposal criticized Brownback's administration for submitting it only this week, with lawmakers returning Monday from a spring break to wrap up the year's business.
They doubted the state could hire all the new employees and train them before July — something an administration official confirmed — allowing guns in the meantime. In preliminary budget discussions Thursday, the House committee rejected Brownback's proposal, though the decision is not final.
"It's pretty short-sighted to be coming to us this late in the day," said state Rep. Erin Davis, an Olathe Republican.
The gun-rights law was enacted in 2013 to ensure that gun owners could bring concealed weapons into a greater number of public buildings; Kansas later ended a requirement for a state permit to carry concealed. The law gave public hospitals, mental health centers, universities and colleges a four-year exemption, which expires July 1.
State higher education officials have been preparing for the change for months, drafting new policies for dealing with guns in their buildings, and the three largest universities plan to spend more than $2 million to keep weapons out of sporting events.
Some lawmakers contend the 2013 law should remain unchanged because it allows gun owners to protect themselves. Others disagree over which institutions should be allowed to continue banning guns, though support appears strongest for public hospitals, including the four state hospitals.
"If they're going to spend the money, they want to spend it on the patients," said Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican.
Mental health advocates are pressing lawmakers to change the law so that hospitals and mental health centers and keep concealed guns out. Kyle Kessler, a lobbyist for the state's community mental health centers, said the money Brownback proposes to spend on extra security at state hospitals could be better spent on community services.
The Department for Aging and Disability Services, which runs the state hospitals, also has discussed gun legislation with lawmakers.
"It's just that, to date, there's been no movement," said Cory Gwaltney, the agency's legislative director.
Brownback's proposal includes $810,000 for metal detectors at the state's hospitals for the mentally ill in Larned and Osawatomie and its hospitals for the developmentally disabled in Parsons and Topeka. But most of the new costs — $23.4 million over two years — would be hiring 180 new employees, including "armed personnel."
The proposal calls for the spending to start only on July 1, and Gwaltney acknowledged that the state would need three or four months to get the new workers hired.
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