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Board chairman a no-show at legislative hearing on arming teachers


LITTLE ROCK — The chairman of a state board that allowed some Arkansas public schools to arm teachers and staff failed to appear before a legislative panel Tuesday, prompting the panel’s Senate chairman to say he would issue a subpoena — and possibly seek abolition of the board.

The House and Senate judiciary committees also discussed the obstacles to carrying out executions in the state and said that issue and the guns-in-school issue could both be considered in the fiscal session that begins in February.

Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, chairman of the Senate committee, told reporters the joint committees had asked Ralph Sims, chairman of the state Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies, to speak at Tuesday’s hearing on the board’s decision to allow up to 13 school districts, but no others, to train teachers and staff to serve as armed security guards, but Sims was a no-show.

It was the second time this year that the committees asked the board to send someone to testify and no one showed up, Hutchinson said. He called Sims’ absence “an insult to the Legislature and the constituents we represent” and said he would seek a subpoena requiring Sims to appear before the panel.

He added that if legislators do not get an opportunity to question Sims or anyone else from the board, they may take action that the board would not want.

“This is probably rash and in the moment, but there’s discussion (that) the legislative remedy may be abolishing the board,” Hutchinson said.

Sims said later in a phone interview that he was unable to attend the hearing because of “a last-minute conflict.”

“I do plan to attend the next meeting,” he said.

When told of Sims’ explanation, Hutchinson said, “We’ll probably go ahead and issue the subpoena. … We’ll make sure he is there and there won’t be any other more important things to do come up at the last minute.”

The board made its Sept. 11 decision after Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in an Aug. 1 opinion that he did not believe the board could legally authorize school districts to use employees as armed guards, though they could enter into contracts with security agencies.

The board had already authorized 13 districts to train and arm employees before McDaniel issued his non-binding opinion. In a compromise of sorts, the board voted to allow those 13 districts to use already trained employees as guards for two years but not to accept new applications from other districts.

The legislative panel did hear testimony Tuesday from David Hopkins, superintendent of the Clarksville School District, which has about 20 teachers and staff members carrying guns, and from Jon Hodaway of Nighthawk Custom Training Academy in Centerton, which trained Clarksville’s employees.

“I think there’s quite a bit of confusion out there and a little bit of frustration because we have school districts that desire means to effectively protect their children, and they don’t understand why one date is OK and the next date is unconstitutional,” Hodaway told the panel.

Hodaway also said he believed it might be appropriate for some agency other than the board and the Arkansas State Police, which administers licenses approved by the board, to have authority over school security.

Hopkins said he hoped the Legislature would take action on the issue before September 2015, when the Clarksville district’s current authorization to arm employees will expire.

Hutchinson said the Legislature may take up the issue in the fiscal session, saying, “I for one would hate to delay and then something tragic happened in a school that had been desiring some type of armed security.”

A three-fourths vote of both chambers is required to consider a non-appropriations bill in a fiscal session.

Also Tuesday, Amy Ford, senior assistant with the attorney general’s office, testified that Florida recently executed two inmates with a drug called midazolam taking the place of a barbiturate in its procedure, but she said legal challenges to the drug’s use in executions are under way. She also said Arkansas’ current lethal-injection law would not allow the use of midazolam and that it is unclear whether a reliable supply of that drug will exist in the future.

Arkansas has not executed a condemned prisoner since 2005 because of lawsuits over its lethal-injection procedure and its inability to obtain a supplier of lethal-injection drugs.

Hutchinson said he hoped the Judiciary committees would come up with a recommended fix that the Legislature could consider either in the fiscal session or in the next regular session in 2015.