The Kansas House's top Republican responded to a series of mass shootings by proposing Wednesday alleviation of a shortage of mental health personnel in rural areas and the expansion of a mental health program in K-12 schools.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said the 2020 Legislature ought to address the widespread deficit of behavioral health workers in Kansas. Half of the state's population lives in areas of shortage compared to the national average of 30 percent, he said.
"When the right services are provided at the right time, we can hope to prevent these types of tragedies in Kansas and prevent further tragedies in our nation," Ryckman said. "We need to take a more integrated approach that pulls together resources from our community mental health centers, schools, law enforcement, hospitals, safety net clinics and physicians."
Ryckman, who didn't put a price tag on his proposal, addressed the issue in the wake of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, without discussion of firearms.
In 2018, Ryckman joined Senate President Susan Wagle, then-Secretary of State Kris Kobach and other Kansas GOP politicians for a rally at the Capitol that was co-sponsored by the National Rifle Association and the Kansas State Rifle Association.
Gov. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, responded to the latest mass shootings by calling for "real, common sense gun-safety laws" and a meaningful response to the public health crisis.
"We have now seen our 251st mass shooting for the year," Kelly said. "We have seen hundreds of communities ravaged by gun violence, thousands of lives lost and countless others forever changed through the loss of their loved ones."
"We are in the midst of a public health crisis and we should not wait for another gun-related tragedy to occur to take action. It’s time we do something about this before it’s too late. It’s time to implement real, common sense gun-safety laws," she said.
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, said a mental health program providing short-term stabilization and treatment services based in K-12 schools and community crisis centers ought to be expanded statewide.
"We have the tools available to us that we know work, the evidence is there," Landwehr said. "Now is the time to replicate them and ensure all Kansans are able to access them."
Landwehr said the state's community health system had been "neglected for far too long." In the current fiscal year, state lawmakers increased by $5 million the amount of state aid for community health centers.