Government & Politics

Guns in public hospitals: Kansas panel considers new effort to keep firearms out

A bill that had a hearing Thursday before the Senate budget committee would allow Kansas’ four state hospitals and public hospitals, like the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., to keep banning handguns.
A bill that had a hearing Thursday before the Senate budget committee would allow Kansas’ four state hospitals and public hospitals, like the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., to keep banning handguns. deulitt@kcstar.com

Officials with the University of Kansas Health System made another effort Thursday to keep guns out of its buildings before a state law that would allow concealed weapons takes effect July 1.

Senate Bill 235, which had a hearing Thursday before the Senate budget committee, would allow Kansas’ state hospitals and public hospitals, like the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., to keep banning handguns.

The legislation is the latest attempt to change the state law after other attempts have failed to gain traction this session.

Bob Page, president and CEO of the University of Kansas Health System, said the law taking effect in July already is worrying patients. He said KU Hospital would be at a competitive disadvantage if it became the only hospital in the Kansas City area where concealed weapons are allowed.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Page said after the hearing about the bill’s chances.

Legislation passed in 2013 loosened gun laws and allowed concealed firearms in state and municipal buildings in Kansas, though the guns could be kept out if certain security measures were met.

But the bill gave certain places, like colleges and public hospitals, a four-year exemption to prepare for that provision to take effect. That exemption ends July 1.

Lawmakers revised gun laws again in 2015 to allow people 21 and older to carry concealed handguns without a permit. That led some lawmakers, educators and students to push for a rollback of the 2013 law.

Public mental health centers and state hospitals would continue to be exempt under SB 235.

Other efforts to roll back parts of the concealed-carry law have either failed or stalled in both the House and Senate.

Those efforts included a narrower bill that would have exempted only the KU Health System and another bill that would have expanded the weapons exemption to college campuses.

The Kansas State Rifle Association has opposed any effort to repeal the campus and hospital portions parts of the concealed-carry law. Gun rights supporters have argued that keeping the law in place is a safety issue.

“It is naive to assume that there are not already guns in these facilities,” said Brett Hildabrand, a former legislator and lobbyist for the rifle association.

If the law remains unchanged, public hospitals could still ban guns if they make security changes. They would need to install metal detectors and have armed security, a move hospital officials say would be costly.

State officials with the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services testified Thursday that putting basic security measures in place at the four state hospitals would cost $11.25 million.

They then clarified that the number would be higher than that because they hadn’t taken into account the law’s requirement that security guards be armed.

Lawmakers questioned the department over an earlier estimate this month that showed it would cost roughly $24.6 million to implement concealed-carry security changes at just two hospitals, Larned State Hospital and Osawatomie State Hospital. The other state hospitals are the Kansas Neurological Institute in Topeka and the Parsons State Hospital and Training Center.

The department officials said they were neutral on the legislation, though they continued to point out the costs of implementation in their testimony.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw

  Comments