- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Kansas City Star, March 18

Prospect of guns in state mental hospitals means it’s time for lawmakers to act

Common sense dictates that Kansas doesn’t want guns in its mental hospitals.

But the state is headed precisely in that direction unless lawmakers can rally in the days ahead and agree on exemptions to a gun law passed in 2013. That law gave mental hospitals, other hospitals and the state’s college campuses four years to prepare for the day when firearms would be allowed in their buildings.

The four-year exemption expires July 1. Officials now are scrambling to prepare for that deadline and to understand what they must do to continue to prohibit guns. State law dictates that buildings can remain gun-free if metal detectors are installed and armed guards are hired.

But that costs a whole lot of money.

At the main University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas, for instance, president and CEO Bob Page is looking at the prospect of spending tens of millions of dollars on added security for an institution with 100 entrances. Adding guns to an already tense hospital environment teeming with people, and occasionally gang members, is inviting trouble.

“I just can’t imagine bringing guns into that situation,” he told The Star’s editorial board last week.

Members of the House Appropriations Committee in Topeka recently learned what it would take to keep guns out of the Larned and Osawatomie hospitals for the mentally ill. The cost of equipment and security personnel at both would total nearly $25 million.

That doesn’t include the costs of securing state facilities in Topeka and Parsons.

In case you haven’t heard, money is a little tight these days in the Capitol, where lawmakers are battling billion-dollar deficits. So maybe it wasn’t surprising that a Cabinet member from Gov. Sam Brownback’s very pro-gun-rights administration this week mentioned he was concerned about the prospect of guns in mental hospitals - and what it would cost to keep them out.

Tim Keck, secretary of the Department of Aging and Disability Services, insisted the $25 million figure may be high even though his agency produced the estimate.

So far, a bill to extend gun-free exemptions to college campuses and hospitals hasn’t even gotten out of committee. But it now appears likely that House members will soon debate gun measures on the floor. That’s the time to strike.

That the state may be on the hook for millions to secure its facilities has given this issue new momentum. Most Kansans appear to favor gun-free zones. But lawmakers will need to overcome the formidable National Rifle Association to get this done.

The time to stand up is now. No one wants guns in hospitals for the mentally ill. No one.


The Manhattan Mercury, March 19

Borrowing is not a good solution

Perhaps the best thing about the budget bill the Kansas Senate approved last week is that it wasn’t as bad as it might have been.

Senators didn’t, for example, cut funding for public schools; that’s largely because they have learned better than to cross the Kansas Supreme Court, which recently ordered lawmakers to increase funding. Senators also turned down not one, not two, but three attempts at across-the-board spending cuts.

Senate President Susan Wagle argued for a 2-percent cut to help offset a budget shortfall of $281 million by June 30. She said that when Kansas families find themselves in financial trouble, cutting spending is among their first options.

She’s right, but legislators didn’t buy it because they’ve already cut spending multiple times in recent years and in the process created hardships for many Kansas families.

What’s more, Sen. Wagle’s proposed 2-percent cut would have forced agencies to make drastic reductions because almost three-fourths of the fiscal year has gone by. Senators overwhelmingly rejected her amendment as well as proposals by state Sen. Dennis Pyle for 1-percent and 0.5-percent across-the-board funding cuts.

Unfortunately, given Gov. Sam Brownback’s disdain for repealing income-tax cuts - he prefers increases on alcohol and tobacco - the bill the Senate approved looks more like something he would support than most senators would like.

For example, the bill delays a payment of about $150 million to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. It also delays - by one important day - the payment of $75 million to the state’s public schools. Making the latter payment July 1 instead of June 30 puts the transaction into the next fiscal year. Much like delaying the KPERS payment, it’s a short-term solution that doesn’t actually solve much. Additionally, the bill calls for borrowing enough money from idle investment funds to ensure that the state has an ending balance June 30 of $50 million. It’s more of a paper solution than a real one.

In short, this bill’s salient feature is that it would balance this fiscal year’s budget. A better solution would involve something closer to the House bill that the Senate seconded and that Gov. Brownback vetoed. That would have generated more than $1 billion over two years and constitut ed a step toward the structural balance in the state budget that is lacking in the Senate bill.

The budget the Legislature eventually sends to the governor is expected to be drawn up this week by Senate and House negotiators. It ought to include another try to at least scale back the income-tax cuts that played an important role in gouging the financial hole lawmakers are now trying to dig out of.


The Salina Journal, March 14

Campus carry rules reasonable

University officials were given no say in 2013, when Kansas legislators voted to allow people to carry concealed handguns on campuses. Now, there’s a proposal in the Kansas Legislature that would strip university officials of the right to regulate the carrying of concealed weapons.

The bill was debated Thursday in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee. It would prohibit public colleges and universities from setting any policy or regulation regarding concealed weapons when the 2013 law goes into effect July 1.

Travis Couture-Lovelady, with the National Rifle Association, told the Topeka Capital-Journal that his organization objects to policies adopted by the universities. He said some of those policies are an attempt to make concealed carry confusing, restrictive and to make students simply give up on carrying guns on campus.

He made note of attempts this year by university officials and others to overturn campus carry legislation, particularly on the University of Kansas Medical Center campus.

“It’s hard to take them at their word when they say they’re just trying to put commonsense, reasonable regulations on this when they’ve been up here a number of times this year trying to completely get rid of guns on campus,” said Couture-Lovelady, a former member of the Kansas House.

Couture-Lovelady and his cohorts at the NRA shouldn’t be so concerned.

Policies in place for Kansas State University may be found on the university’s website by going to k-state.edu/vpaf/weaponspolicy and clicking on “Read the approved policy.” The policy requires that handguns, while being carried, be secured in a holster with the trigger covered and the hammer secured in an uncocked position; that handguns be stored out of sight in a locked, privately owned vehicle; and that handguns be secured in a holster in an approved storage device while in the owner’s residence.

The policy requires that when a handgun is being carried in a backpack, purse or other bag, “the carrier must at all times remain within the exclusive and uninterrupted control of the individual. This includes wearing the carrier with one or more straps consistent with the carrier’s design, carrying or holding the carrier, or setting the carrier next to or within the immediate reach of the individual.”

The university policy is not onerous - it makes sense. And if the Legislature is going to force officials of public colleges and universities to allow the concealed carry of weapons on their campuses, it only makes sense to let them make rules to govern how those weapons should be carried and stored.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, March 18

‘Red flag’ nursing homes are unacceptable

The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services is required to conduct regular inspections of the state’s nursing facilities. According to the agency’s reports, 68 Kansas nursing homes have received 10 or more infractions (KDADS calls them “deficiencies”) for three consecutive years, and six of these facilities are located in Topeka. A Lawrence-based nonprofit called Kansas Advocates for Better Care - which “monitors conditions in the state’s nursing homes” - gave each of these facilities a “red flag.”

KABC says facilities are cited with deficiencies when they’re “found to be out of compliance with a regulation intended to ensure residents’ health and safety.” There are 350 nursing homes in Kansas and almost 20 percent of them have repeatedly violated these health and safety regulations. And it gets even worse. According to KABC, “In the past 18 months, at least 44 facilities on the list were cited for deficiencies that resulted in ‘actual harm’ to residents or put them in ‘immediate jeopardy’ of being harmed.”

The commissioner for survey, certification and credentialing at KDADS, Codi Thurness, says the agency documented 132 “immediate jeopardy” incidents in 2016 - a dramatic increase from the 54 incidents in 2015. However, Thurness noted that this spike could be due to external factors: “There is probably more awareness of individuals voicing concerns they’re having. More people are educated and reporting to the hot line.” Regardless of what caused the increase, the number is a disturbing sign that too many Kansas seniors are at risk.

The Good Samaritan Society Center (a nursing facility in Minneapolis) received 46 deficiencies in the last inspection cycle alone - some of which harmed residents or put them in immediate jeopardy. KABC listed a few of these infractions: “Mistreatment of resident(s) resulting in actual harm, lack of proper treatment to prevent bed sores resulting in actual harm, lack of compliance with special or therapeutic diets resulting in immediate jeopardy for residents, and accident hazards which posed immediate jeopardy to residents.”

What is KDADS doing to ensure that red flag facilities like the Good Samaritan Society Center are improving? What penalties do the administrators and owners of these nursing homes face when they consistently fail to comply with health and safety regulations? Why did the state’s last inspection cycle take place over the course of 15 months instead of a year - particularly when “immediate jeopardy” incidents appear to be on the rise and more than one in five facilities in the state are chronically deficient?

KABC reports that “Kansas law requires that nursing facilities be inspected every 12 months, on average. KDADS, however, consistently fails to meet its own timelines due to budget shortfalls and not having enough trained inspectors.” Is anything being done to increase the frequency of inspections? What would it take for this option to be considered?

These are issues that state officials have a responsibility to address immediately, but seniors and their families shouldn’t wait to take action. If a loved one is a resident at one of the red flag nursing homes, demand answers from the facilities’ administrators. Contact your legislators. Contact KABC. Make sure all residents are aware of the KDADS Abuse, Neglect or Exploitation hotline: 800-842-0078. And be sure to do as much research as possible to help choose the right home for the people you love most.

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