Bill to allow guns in churches with schools advances


LITTLE ROCK — A person with a concealed handgun permit could take a weapon into a church that also operates a K-12 private school, with the church’s permission, under a bill that passed the Senate on Thursday.

Senate Bill 896 Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, would add a new defense against prosecution for possession of a firearm on school property. It passed the Senate 29-4 and goes to the House.

A new law adopted earlier this year, Act 67, allows a concealed-carry permit holder to carry a gun into a place of worship if the facility allows concealed weapons inside.

King said he filed the bill after being told by lawyers with the Bureau of Legislative Research that there were some legal concerns about carrying a concealed weapon in churches that have private schools in their building.

“This is just trying to clarify the language,” King said.

Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, who opposed the original concealed handgun permit in church bill, suggested that SB 896 could place children in the private schools located in a church in danger.

She said the Legislature earlier this session approved a measure exempting the names of concealed weapon permit holders from the state Freedom of Information Act and that would make it difficult for churches to verify who has a concealed weapon permit.

“Now we have a school situation, and I thought in a school situation that you’re supposed to be able to check all of these employees of the school,” Flowers asked. “Don’t we still have standards for checking employees that teach our children in K-12, whether it’s private or public?”

King told Flowers he did not know the answer to her question and that the bill simply made it clear that concealed weapon permit holders would be allowed to carry their weapon into a church, if there is a school also located in the same building.

A related measure, House Bill 1284, was filed in response to the guns in church law to set guidelines for churches in allowing concealed weapons and to shield places of worship from liability for damages resulting from gun play. The measure was listed among deferred bills on the House Judiciary Committee agenda Thursday.

Also Thursday, the Senate approved, 35-0, HB 1366 by Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, which would require that the Court Reporters Fund, the Trial Court Administrative Assistants Fund and the Arkansas District Judges Council receive priority in distributions from the state Administration of Justice Fund. The bill now goes to the governor.

The Senate also approved HB 1282 by Rep. John Edwards, D-Little Rock. Under the bill, if the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department seeks to obtain a private property owner’s land under the right of eminent domain and the property owner files a legal challenge and wins by 10 percent or more, the state must pay the property owner’s legal costs. The bill passed 25-0 and goes to the governor.

HB 1503 by Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, which would make it a Class D felony to provide false information to a gun dealer or private seller in order to procure a firearm or ammunition, was approved by the Senate 35-0.

Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, presented the measure on the Senate floor, saying the bill is part of the National Rifle Association’s legislative package and is designed to prevent gun-control activists from conducting sting operations not sanctioned by law enforcement. The bill now goes to the governor.

The House on Thursday voted 82-0 to approve SB 140 by Irvin, which would require school districts to train their employees to prevent and respond to acts of violence, terrorism and natural disaster and would require that employees and students participate in school violence drills.

The House had postponed a vote Wednesday after members raised concerns that the bill could constitute an unfunded mandate if funding for it is not secured. Rep. Homer Lenderman, D-Brookland, who presented the bill in the House, assured members Thursday that bill would only require schools to provide training to employees if funding is available.

The bill goes to the governor.

The House voted 65-13 to approve HB 1750 by Rep. Jonathan Barnett, R-Siloam Springs, which would require a motorist to move to the farthest possible lane, if possible, from a Highway Department vehicle, a utility company vehicle or a towing vehicle that is stopped on the side of a roadway and is displaying flashing emergency lights.

Arkansas law already requires motorists to move over for law enforcement and emergency response vehicles that are stopped on the side of a roadway and displaying flashing emergency lights.

The bill goes to the Senate.

In a 53-24 vote, the House barely passed HB 1772 by Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, which would raise some of the fees that homeowners pay to install a septic tank. The increases range from $5 to $20. The bill goes to the Senate.

The House voted 83-2 to approve HB 1929 by Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, which would amend water-quality standards for dissolved minerals in waterways that are not used for drinking water. Davis said the bill would eliminate the needs for costly environmental studies that are not required by the Environmental Protection Agency. The bill goes to the Senate.

The House voted 88-0 to approve SB 259 by Sen. David Sanders, R-Little Rock, which would exclude sexual offenses and other felonies including capital murder, murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, aggravated robbery, arson, among others, from eligibility for transfer to the Department of Community Correction by the state Parole Board. The bill goes to the governor.

House Resolution 1031 by Rep. John Hutchison, R-Harrisburg, failed in a 36-13 vote. The non-binding resolution would encourage the federal government to reject Plains & Eastern Clean Line’s proposal to build a transmission line across Arkansas.

Hutchison said the project would interfere with duck hunting, allow the company to take land from private property owners and deliver power to Tennessee, not Arkansas.

Speaking against the resolution, Rep. David Kizzia, D-Malvern, said Arkansas workers would provide cable and labor for the project and told members, “It is not our place to oppose good jobs for Arkansans.”