Kansas Attorney General Schmidt addresses legal questions
By SCOTT AUST
The new concealed-carry law and immigration were two of several topics Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt took time to talk about while in Garden City on Monday for an open meetings seminar at Garden City Community College.
Schmidt, who was elected Attorney General in 2010, said he has enjoyed the past two-plus years in office.
"I'm having a ball," Schmidt said. "If you enjoy public service and practicing law, there's no better job than one that combines the two; so for me it's been a tremendous opportunity. I hope we brought the right priorities to the office. We certainly tried to."
One of the issues Schmidt's office is currently working on is the concealed-carry legislation that went into effect this year.
As of July 1, either the government has to provide adequate security to keep all firearms out of public buildings, or all permitted concealed-carry holders must be allowed to bring their firearms in.
"I think the theory the Legislature had was just putting up a sign wasn't going to exclude folks of ill intent, so you ought to at least allow permitted folks who've gone through a background check, and presumably they're following the law to carry it in for personal safety, unless the government has taken steps to keep everyone out," Schmidt said.
Municipalities and public entities can seek a six-month exemption of the law until Jan. 1, 2014, when they also can seek an additional four-year exemption.
Schmidt said the AG's office is in the process of trying to provide as much guidance and clarity as it can about the law to help people make decisions on how to comply. So far, about 400 public entities have requested the six-month exemption, but Schmidt expects fewer than that will choose to continue with the longer exemption.
One aspect Schmidt said is still being worked through is what constitutes adequate security measures.
"That's the term, but it's not defined. It's pretty clear from the legislative debate the concept they were talking about was physical screening — metal detectors or x-ray machines. But the law isn't express on that," he said. "I think it's clear that metal detectors and x-rays are adequate. What's not clear is whether something less than that might also be adequate."
Also, the law doesn't give the AG's office authority to enforce whether a public building's security measures are adequate, nor does it require those seeking the four-year exemption to file their security plan with the attorney general's office.
"Nor are we authorized to approve it," Schmidt said. "There are no standards in the statute as to what adequate means, and there's no authority for us to enforce it with respect to whether they fail to have an adequate security plan. Those are all open questions that will have to be worked through as the statute is implemented."
Regarding immigration, Schmidt said his office doesn't have a large role in it, because immigration is principally a federal issue. However, Schmidt said his general approach is the state ought to enforce the law, which he noted is simple in concept but sometimes difficult in practice.
"There shouldn't be discussions about whether we enforce or ignore. At the same time, the law ought to be rational," he said.
Schmidt said, in his opinion, the ball is in Congress's court to figure out whether to keep the current system, or whether its flaws justify a significant change that would still be focused on the rule of law, but would also recognize the realities of economic necessity, as exist in southwest Kansas.
"I think that's a policy choice, not a law enforcement choice. I think to the extent that the current system is broken, it's a policy failure, not a law enforcement failure," Schmidt said.
Another story that's been in the news recently is the arrest of a National Geographic photographer for trespassing after going onto a Finney County feedlot's property to launch a paraglider to take photos of the feedlot.
While he heard about the story, Schmidt said the issue of feedlot flyovers is not one the attorney general's office is focused on, though he noted that Kansas for more than a decade has been a national leader on homeland security issues affecting livestock population due to the beef industry's large presence in the state.
"We've come a long way in the last 10 years in terms of having laws in place that focus on feedlot security and animal health security, (and) having run drills on it, so our responders actually have thought through and exercised what to do in case of improper actions. I think we just need to continue that. The beef industry is important to the state, so we ought to think, proactively, about how we secure and protect it," he said.
On other issues, Schmidt said the numbers for fiscal year 2013 Medicaid fraud recoveries haven't been announced yet, but he believes they will set a new record for money brought back to the treasury.
"We've been more aggressive on that. In addition to doing larger dollar cases, which are important, we've also stepped up our smaller scale criminal enforcement," Schmidt said.
Another piece of new legislation that went into effect July 1 concerns the roofing industry. Due to concerns about fly-by-night operators who show up after a storm and offer to fix damaged roofs and then get paid for work that's never done, or is shoddy, the new law requires all roofing contractors in Kansas to register with the state attorney general's office.
Schmidt said his office will verify certain information, such as whether the contractor is current on its taxes and has workers' compensation insurance, and will maintain the registry on the AG's website.
"There are these storm chasing companies, and that's literally what they do — they roam the prairies state to state knowing there will be damage. The problem is, even if they're on the better end of the spectrum of operators, they're here and then they're gone. So if there's a problem, it's hard to track them down," he said.