The Kansas State Rifle Association is regretting its decision to endorse Senate President Susan Wagle and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning last fall. Denning, an Overland Park Republican, used a legislative procedure known as a “gut-and-go” to strip a House bill and replace it with legislation that allows public hospitals to ban guns.
Despite the legislation’s unceremonious death in House and Senate committees earlier this session, Denning’s maneuver gave the proposal new life. The Senate Ways & Means Committee hosted a hearing on the bill on March 23.
“We’ve had a lot of individuals in the legislature that got endorsements who have since gone against what they’ve stated in their surveys,” Moriah Day, KSRA PAC Chairman, said. “It’s been disappointing.”
Senate leadership retains authority to place bills in committees. The Senate Federal and State Affairs committee refused to forward similar legislation. However, the Ways and Means Committee may be more favorable to a hospital gun ban.
Brett Hildabrand is a former state legislator-turned KSRA lobbyist.
“Despite having no budget, Denning and Wagle prioritized an anti-gun bill in the budget committee,” Hildabrand said.
Hildabrand testified to the committee that lawmakers compromised with public hospitals when drafting current gun laws. Under existing law, hospitals and universities received a four-year exemption to study whether to add security measures like metal detectors or allow guns. The exemption expires July 1.
“We granted KU Med and universities a four-year exemption so that they would work on a plan pursuing one of those two routes,” Hildabrand said. “Instead, we’re before you at the 11th hour with the understanding that there is not a plan.”
Twice this session, similar bills died an unceremonious death when they failed to get enough votes to pass a House and the Senate Fed and State Affairs committee.
Bob Page, the CEO of University of Kansas Medical Center, said KU Med will be the only hospital in the region that allows guns.
“If we are forced to allow guns into our hospital on July 1, we will be at a serious economic disadvantage,” Page said.
Rick Johnson, chief of KU Med Center Police, said there are metal detectors at some entrances.
“But armed officers at our public entrances is not practical or fiscally prudent,” Johnson said.
Page said the expenditures would take money away from more important hospital concerns.
“We have been forced now to consider spending rare and unique dollars not on patient care, but on securing our organization,” Page said.
Publicly funded mental health and research facilities testified that they share the same concerns of KU Med Center officials.
Hildabrand was unmoved.
“If the governing body of an entity truly believes that firearms pose a danger, they should recognize the hypocrisy of their current position, which does nothing to prevent illegal firearms,” he said in a release after the legislative hearing.
He told lawmakers it was naive to believe guns aren’t entering the hospital today.
“There are at least a dozen cases of guns stopped by metal detectors in the (KU Med) ER,” Hildabrand said. “How many other guns have infiltrated the hospital without their knowledge?”
The Ways and Means Committee did not take action on the legislation, but Sen. Dennis Pyle, a Hiawatha Republican, formally asked Wagle to move the bill to the Senate’s Federal and State Affairs Committee.
The Kansas Truth Caucus, a group of House and Senate conservatives, took issue with the short notice of the bill’s hearing. According to a press release, Senate leadership “hastily placed” the bill on the calendar March 22. Notice of a public hearing occurred only 24 hours before the hearing.
“Pushing this anti-gun legislation through without proper public notice is a blatant attempt to take away the rights of lawful Kansans who wish only to protect themselves and their families,” Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, said.
Sen. Carol McGinn chairs the Ways and Means Committee. She said the bill was introduced on Friday. It was read into the record on Monday and referred to Ways and Means because of the fiscal note. She said the hearing appeared on the calendar on Tuesday. However, the bill was referenced on Tuesday, but the public notice hearing did not appear until Wednesday. The hearing was Thursday morning.