Kansas House silences Democratic-inspired plea to debate on K-12, guns

Kansas House members watch the vote board in this April 3, 2017, file photo. (Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal)

The Republican-led House tossed aside attempts by Democrats on Friday to force a vote on a public school financing bill and to endorse an indefinite exemption to Kansas’ concealed gun law for public universities, hospitals and mental health facilities.

 

House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, tried to initiate full-scale debate on the K-12 Education Budget Committee’s plan to raise public school funding $279 million over two years. Democrats prefer increases of $400 million in new state over that period.

Attempts to alter Kansas law opening public buildings to people carrying concealed firearms has been opposed by gun-rights lobbyists and legislators.

“It’s frustrating and disappointing that the people of Kansas are being denied a full and vigorous debate on gun safety or school finance funding,” Ward said. “Many people are asking: Why did you do it today? My answer is: Why not today? It’s day 95 of the session. This should have been covered on day one.”

The typical Kansas legislative session consumes 90 days, but the 2017 session was budgeted for 100 days. The Kansas Supreme Court’s deadline for a new school funding plan is June 30.

Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway, said the House committee’s school finance package could be ready next week for consideration by the House. It promises to be a lengthy debate driven by amendments from the chamber’s three factions — conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans and Democrats.

House GOP leaders have kept the school bill on hold in an attempt to first push through a tax increase closing a revenue shortfall of $900 million in the next two fiscal years.

Negotiations between the Senate and House on a tax deal haven’t yielded something favored by a majority of legislators and Gov. Sam Brownback, who vetoed a bill in February raising individual state income tax rates and wiping out the controversial income tax exemption for owners of 330,000 businesses.

The House voted down Ward’s request on House Bill 2410, the school funding measure, by a 39-77 margin. Ward needed 70 affirmative votes to redirect the House bill.

The chamber rejected 72-42 Ward’s attempt to insert a conceal gun amendment into Senate Bill 201, a bill containing consumer protections for veterans and from automated marketing telephone calls. His goal was a permanent exemption for dozens of medical and educational facilities from the law allowing concealed firearms into public buildings not secured by metal detectors and guards on July 1.

Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, said behind-the-scenes talks were likely to result in a bill carving out targeted exemptions to the gun law. He didn’t elaborate.

“There are negotiations going on privately. I’ve been assured of that. This is not the time or the place,” Barker said.

Seventeen states prohibit concealed guns on campuses and 23 states allow that decision to be made by each university, said Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence.

“Right now, seven states will allow conceal-carry on their campuses,” she said. “I do rise in support of not having concealed carry on our campuses. I hope you will just think of it in terms of a safety issue.”

Meanwhile, the House called off Friday’s scheduled vote on Senate Bill 86, which would delay inspection mandates for amusement park rides in Kansas. Legislators said carnival companies and the Kansas Department of Labor weren’t prepared to implement a robust inspection regimen this summer.

Impetus to deepen oversight was motivated by the 2016 death of a boy at the Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas City, Kan. The child was the son of Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe. Also, a 15-month-old girl died Wednesday after injured in Wichita near a carnival ride operated by Missouri-based Evans United Shows. Witnesses said the child was electrocuted by a live wire after touching a handrail in front of the ride.

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