Gov. Sam Brownback wants more than $24 million over the next two years to keep guns out of state hospitals, frustrating lawmakers who question how such security measures can be put into place by a July 1 deadline.
Lawmakers and Brownback have the power to change the law and avoid spending millions but attempts to amend it have faltered. A 2013 state law allows concealed weapons at public hospitals and college campuses beginning July 1. That includes the state s psychiatric hospitals in Larned and Osawatomie. Guns may be kept out if buildings provide security measures such as metal detectors and armed guards. Storage for weapons may also be provided.
In a budget request released Thursday, Brownback asks for $12.5 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, and $11.7 million in the year after, to meet the security requirements. The request includes $810,000 in one-time costs for metal detectors. About 180 full-time armed guard positions would be needed, amounting to $11.7 million in annual costs. Lawmakers voiced frustration with the Brownback administration over the request during a joint meeting of the House and Senate budget committees. They appeared skeptical that the metal detectors could be put in place and guards trained by July 1.
I think it was pretty apparent there has been no planning and no real effort to get prepared for July 1. There s no training program in place, Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-Kansas City, said.
The budget request doesn t include any money in the current fiscal year for training.
If we re going to train existing personnel who are not authorized to carry now, they re going to have to get into training. We re going to have to pay for that before the fiscal year is up, Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, said. Attempts to change the gun law have so far not advanced through the legislative process. The Kansas State Rifle Association has opposed exempting hospitals from the current law. Under questioning from lawmakers, the governor s policy director, Brandon Smith, said the governor is not lobbying for a particular change in the law.
The Legislature as a whole supports exempting hospitals from allowing concealed weapons, said Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park.
Give them an exemption, let the signs stay up and have that feeling that there are no guns on mental health campuses, Denning said. It s unclear whether Brownback would sign such an exemption if the Legislature changed the law. Tim Keck, secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, told lawmakers on Wednesday he wants an exemption. Keck made the comments during tours of Osawatomie State Hospital and Lansing Correctional Facility.
Patients are at the facility involuntarily, locked in their units undergoing what Keck called active treatments where staff are engaged with the patients and the patients are involved in groups throughout the day.
And so I want you to take note of that because we have asked for a continued exemption on concealed carry, Keck said. Brownback spokeswoman Melika Willoughby wouldn t say whether the governor supports the concealed carry law as it is currently written or wants state hospitals to be exempted. She said the governor will review any legislation sent to him. Wolfe Moore questioned whether lawmakers would be able to gather enough support to override a veto.
Considering the muscle the NRA is willing to flex, I think override is what becomes very difficult, Wolfe Moore said.
The budget request doesn t include the University of Kansas Hospital in metro Kansas City. The hospital will have to allow guns on campus beginning July 1 unless it pays for security measures.
Denning said he favors an exemption for the KU hospital because it competes with private hospitals and needs similar regulations to stay competitive.
Contributing: Bryan Lowry of the Kansas City Star
When Rep. Luis Gutierrez first arrived in Congress years ago, a Capitol Hill security guard stopped him. She didn t believe he was a member of Congress.
I showed her my ID and she wasn t convinced, he says on this week s episode of Majority Minority, a McClatchy podcast hosted by William Douglas and Franco Ordo ez.
There were a couple of little Puerto Rican flags involved in this, he says. They became unfurled as they went through the X-ray machine, and she was very upset. A little too upset.
On the podcast, Gutierrez talks about how he went from being one of the first Latinos to endorse Barack Obama for president to one of the first to brand him as the deporter in chief  over his immigration policies.
It impacted (us) greatly now we weren t friendly with one another, he says. It was tough. And it s tough standing up to a friend. Gutierrez, a 13-term Democrat from Chicago, opens up about his relationship with the former president, and the prospects of getting a comprehensive immigration overhaul under President Donald Trump. He recalls what it was like growing up in two cultures American and Puerto Rican and the struggle to be accepted in both.
I always felt I was too Puerto Rican to be American and then when I went to Puerto Rico I was absolutely too American to be Puerto Rican kind of caught in this middle, he recalls. Gutierrez has been in the forefront in Congress in pursuing changes in the nation s immigration laws that could provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people currently living in the United States illegally.
He was a member of the so-called Gang of 8,  a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives that tried and failed to craft a comprehensive immigration restructuring that could get through Congress. Gutierrez thought he had found a kindred spirit on immigration in Obama, who made reshaping immigration laws a key issue in his 2008 presidential campaign. But he sensed shortly after the 2008 election that Obama was moving away from his campaign vow to make immigration a priority.
I went to see him while he was in his transition period and I said, Immigration reform, and he says, Can t do it. We re bleeding hundreds of thousand, some months we re bleeding a million jobs, Luis. We can t do it. Why don t you come back in April? Gutierrez says. I took that as a sign that he wasn t going to keep his promise. And I was right.
In this episode, Gutierrez:
Discusses the immigration policy differences between Trump and Obama.
Talks about how living in Puerto Rico helped shape his ethnic identify and ignited his interest in politics.
Recalls how he infuriated fellow Capitol Hill lawmakers in 1993 with his successful crusade to require them to be subjected to the same pay freeze levied against other federal workers.
It may seem extreme, but advocates want the federal government to fast-track about 5,600 so-called forgotten refugees who after five years in Canada have still not been given a hearing. The refugee claimants, from all over the world, are what are known as legacy claimants because they filed for refugee status before the new refugee determination regime came into force in December 2012. While under the new system, a claimant must be given a hearing within 60 days or in some cases 30 days the legacy claimants, judged low priority by the Immigration and Refugee Board, have been waiting in limbo for five years.
Families are separated, young people can t pursue their education, no one can get on with their life and there is no resolution in sight, said Loly Rico, the president of the Canadian Council for Refugees. Fairness requires that we give them the opportunity to regularize their status in Canada without delay.
The CCR, along with the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, are proposing that rather than wait another five, six or eight years for a hearing on their initial refugee claim, the legacy claimants be given the option of having their status decided on humanitarian and compassionate grounds: on how well they have integrated into their communities in Canada and what hardship they would face if returned to their countries of origin. Instead of a hearing, with all the delays and costs associated with it, an immigration officer would consider a written application, and look at the criminality of an applicant, whether they are working, paying taxes, and have small children, for example, said Mitchell Goldberg, the president of the CARL. As it stands, only 678 legacy claims were finalized in 2016. At this rate, it could take another eight years to hear all the remaining legacy cases before the IRB. And in the meantime, new cases are piling up.
As per the law, refugee claimants must have a hearing scheduled within 60 days. But 60 per cent of the hearings scheduled before the IRB in Montreal, for example, are then cancelled at the last minute or postponed, Goldberg said.
The former government created this mess and everyone we ve spoken to recognizes that the status quo is not acceptable, Goldberg said. If (the government) would rather hire more board members, they should go ahead and do so, but it will be a lot more expensive and other people coming in will wait longer and longer. The situation has taken its toll on one woman from Zimbabwe, who can t reunite with her daughter, now 11, or leave the country to visit her, until she has permanent status in Canada; and on a gay man from the Caribbean, who wants to become a teacher, but as an eternal refugee claimant would have to pay international student fees in Canada. It s also been hard on Ibrahim, who came here from Ethiopia in 2012. A university teacher in his own country, he was also a member of an opposition party and was detained and tortured before he escaped and found his way to Canada.
I m in a safe country, I m physically safe, said Ibrahim, whose real name is being withheld to protect his identity. But mentally or psychologically it s not safe, because I don t know how long I ll be safe and I have no idea about my future.
With the label of refugee claimant, and long bouts of depression and helplessness, Ibrahim says it s difficult to focus on his ambitions and fulfill his potential. So instead he has worked a number of jobs in Canada including as a security guard for three years, and even volunteered to help Syrian newcomers settle in. The Syrians were given permanent residency upon their arrival. Ibrahim has yet to get a hearing.
I m happy for them so they can forget what they ve gone through and they can feel secure and focus on their lives even if it s not happening for me, Ibrahim said. For myself and the other refugees in the same situation our life is on hold.
The backlog at the IRB is a result of several factors, including a growing number of claims from refugees coming over the U.S. border recently. But mostly it s due to inefficiency, said Goldberg. The Harper government mandated short deadlines for a first hearing of 30 or 60 days, depending on the country of origin. But it is often not long enough for the Canada Border Services Agency to complete its security review of the applicant, so the case is postponed. The short timelines also make it impossible for the IRB to develop specialized teams with knowledge of Syria or El Salvador, for example who can reach decisions faster. The IRB has suggested extending the timelines so that a hearing is scheduled 90 to 120 days after a claim is filed. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did not return a request for comment Wednesday on the special measures being suggested for legacy claims.
The immigration department has attempted to reduce the backlog of cases by allowing claimants from certain countries Syria, Iraq, and Eritrea to be granted refugee status without a hearing. And since the beginning of April, people from countries with an acceptance rate of about 80 per cent or more can be given a shorter hearing, making it possible to hear more claims in the time available. It is not clear whether members have actually started conducting shorter hearings, however.
The CCR and the CARL believe the special measures for legacy claimants would take those claims off the IRB s shoulders, and let the claimants themselves breathe easier.
We keep hoping they ll start reviewing our cases but it s been five years, says Ibrahim. The problem is not knowing how much longer I ll have to wait. We re already victims of our own governments. We just want our cases reviewed. We want the right to a fair trial like everyone else.