The Johnson County Commission had three choices last week as the result of a newly enacted Kansas law:
By ROXIE HAMMILL
Special to The Star
• Immediately allow people to carry legally permitted guns into such offices as the treasurer, assessor and the Department of Motor Vehicles
.• Immediately install metal detectors and staff at every doorway to ensure “adequate security.”
• Immediately fire off a letter to the Kansas Attorney General’s office requesting a six-month exemption while county officials figure out what to do.
In the end, the commission did the obvious. The letter was sent, and the county will start working on how to deal with the changes and loopholes in House Bill 2052.
The bill, which went into effect this week, puts a new burden on public bodies that want to ban weapons. Up until July 1, a county or city could just put up a sticker at the building entrances. But now, the state says those governing bodies must also submit a statement to the attorney general that the building is adequately secured. And metal detection devices are specifically mentioned as the “adequate security measure” of choice. Law enforcement and mental health facilities are exempted from those requirements.
The law provides for a short-term exemption until Jan. 1 for local governments to get things in gear. They may ask for another four-year exemption after that, as long as they submit a plan for each building they list.
What happens after four years isn’t completely clear. There’s no mechanism for the state to approve or disapprove of the plans the cities and counties submit, or to follow up if they’ve been implemented. The only requirement is that they have a plan, and there’s no definition of plan.
It was a loophole Commissioner Jason Osterhaus was quick to notice. “What if we just left things status quo and called it a security plan?” he asked Don Jarrett, the commission’s legal adviser.
Jarrett said the county could be open to lawsuits by individuals, but no penalty from the state is outlined. The law pertains specifically to concealed carry rules. Jarrett said whether weapons can be openly carried would depend on the rules of the cities they are in.
Weapons are banned at most county buildings where the public would go, facilities manager Joe Waters told the board. But only a few, such as the courthouse, already have metal detectors.
One of the first tasks the county must complete is to decide which buildings they would like to submit a plan for. At an earlier meeting, Waters identified over 600 county-owned structures, but that list was whittled down to around 300 for purposes of the exemption letter.
Some of those are property of the water district, fenced or otherwise off-limits to the public, he said. The commission and staff will cull the list further in coming weeks.
But whatever the list, the cost of adding metal detectors would be significant. One detector costs in the neighborhood of $20,000 to $35,000, and that doesn’t include the salary of a person to run it, Waters said.
“Even if we do one third or one-tenth of this list, the financial cost is huge,” Osterhaus said.
With so many unknowns, Waters was reluctant to estimate how much this law could end up costing county taxpayers. But at an earlier meeting where it was discussed, a staffer from the county manager’s office said it could potentially be in the millions.
Recent changes in the way federal money is divided among local transit authorities could mean substantially more money for bus service in Johnson County.
Money from the Federal Transit Administration is divided up by the Kansas City Area Transit Authority but the process has always been informal up to now, Commissioner Steve Klika said at last week’s meeting. But this year, transit officials created a policy that considers ridership levels, population and connection to regional services. Because population is growing in Johnson and Wyandotte counties, those areas stand to gain, he said.
The amount of federal money to the area won’t be known until the federal fiscal year starts this fall. But based on the current year’s figures, the Jo could get an extra $1 million, with the county’s total at about $2.8 million, he said.
That won’t resolve the question of how to expand bus service in the future, but it will slow down any more cutbacks, he said. The Jo has recently raised fares and cut back on some routes.
“It will provide a little bit of relief here right now,” he said.
On a related note, the commission voted to dedicate the new Mission transit hub at 5251 Johnson Drive in honor of former Westwood Hills Mayor E. Allen Roth. Roth, who died in May, was mayor 14 years and also a member of the Johnson County Transportation Council who promoted metrowide public transportation.