Over objections from the National Rifle Association and some lawmakers, Kansas legislators agreed Thursday that allowing guns in public hospitals crossed a line.
Under a law passed in 2013, hospitals that include the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, Kan., would be forced to allow concealed handguns starting in July unless they put certain security measures in place.
But the Senate voted 24 to 16 to let public hospitals continue to be exempted from the law.
“It’s the safest thing for patients,” said Sen. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican. “Which should always be what our number one priority is.”
The Kansas House then signed off on the bill on a 91 to 33 vote and sent the legislation to Gov. Sam Brownback.
“I’m not asking you to abandon your long held principles about guns, I’m just not,” Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat told lawmakers during the House debate. “I’m asking you to recognize that there are some places where guns just don’t belong.”
It isn’t clear what Brownback will do with the bill, which he can either veto, sign or let become law without his signature.
Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican, told lawmakers on the House floor that he may own more firearms than anybody in the capitol.
But even he supported the bill.
“If you’re going for therapy at a mental health center, I don’t think you should carry a gun,” Barker said.
Other Republicans saw the issue differently, with guns offering protection for those who carry them.
“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, a Sabetha Republican, who voted against the bill.
Leaders with KU Health have lobbied for the bill, while the NRA has opposed different attempts this session to change state law.
Officials with the KU Health System have said that being forced to allow the handguns would be costly for them because of the price of security it would take to ban the handguns without the continued exemption.
They also feared how it may hurt the hospital’s ability to recruit staff, in addition to being a potential safety risk.
The Senate debated the legislation for more than four hours while supporters held off an army of amendments from conservative lawmakers.
Several Senate Republicans tried to either kill the bill or narrow the exemption with a change supported by the NRA.
Those lawmakers criticized the safety of buildings who use “a sticker on a door” to keep out guns from “good guys.”
“It’s a new restriction on law abiding citizens’ rights,” Sen. Dennis Pyle, a Hiawatha Republican, said before trying to kill the bill.
The leading Senate Republican found little support from her colleagues when she tried to amend the law with changes she said were endorsed by the NRA.
Instead of moving along with the bill, Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita tried to effectively gut its contents by offering an amendment that only applied to the state’s psychiatric hospitals, community mental health centers and KU Health.
The proposal, which Wagle said was a compromise for the gun rights group, would have allowed people to carry a gun in a parking lot and the reception areas at those public health facilities.
Under the proposal, Wagle said those carrying a concealed firearm would have to lock up the gun before going into a patient area.
“The NRA believes that people who might do harm don’t look at a sign and follow it,” Wagle said. “They say when you walk into a facility and the good guy is turning over his gun, they want adequate security there to protect the good guy.”
Wagle said Brownback had told her he would support the bill if the amendment passed. Wagle’s amendment failed on a 16-to-24 vote.
Lawmakers have said the state’s hospitals are unprepared to immediately implement the security changes required under current law to ban the handguns despite having four years to prepare for the law to take effect.
Estimates for how much it would cost the state to provide the security to legally keep the firearms out of certain state hospitals have ranged from roughly $12 million to around $24 million this session.
State or municipal-owned medical care facilities and adult care homes, community mental health centers and indigent health care clinics would be exempted from the concealed carry law, according to the bill.
While the guns may end up being banned from public hospitals, another portion of the state’s gun law that has troubled some lawmakers will likely remain.
At the start of July, concealed handguns will be allowed on campuses of the state’s public universities and colleges unless security changes required by the law are made.
Both the colleges and hospitals were given a four-year exemption to prepare for the portion of the concealed carry law that affected them to take effect.
That exemption ends on July 1.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said the bill the Senate passed “was absolutely necessary” because of the budget impact if the hospitals had to spend millions to provide security.
“I wish we could have extended it to campus carry,” Hensley said. “But that will be a debate we’ll have on another day.”
How they voted
Here’s how members of the delegation from Johnson and Wyandotte counties voted on the gun bill.
Yes votes in the Senate: Republicans Barbara Bollier, Jim Denning, John Skubal, Dinah Sykes
Democrats David Haley, Pat Pettey
No votes in the Senate: Republicans Molly Baumgardner, Steve Fitzgerald, Julia Lynn, Robert Olson, Mary Pilcher-Cook
Yes votes in the House: Republicans Shelee Brim, Larry Campbell, Stephanie Clayton, Tom Cox, Erin Davis, Willie Dove, Linda Gallagher, Jan Kessinger, Joy Koesten, Patty Markley, Abraham Rafie, Melissa Rooker, Ron Ryckman, Scott Schwab, Sean Tarwater
Democrats Tom Burroughs, Pam Curtis, Stan Frownfelter, Broderick Henderson, Cindy Holscher, Nancy Lusk, Cindy Neighbor, Jarrod Ousley, Brett Parker, Louis Ruiz, Jerry Stogsdill, Valdenia Winn, Kathy Wolfe Moore
No votes in the House: Republicans Keith Esau, Randy Powell, John Resman, William Sutton