LITTLE ROCK — After a long holiday weekend, legislators return to the Capitol on Tuesday to get down to the business of the 89th General Assembly, with early tussles possible this week over gun rights.
The Legislature convened Jan. 14 and lawmakers heard Gov. Mike Beebe’s state-of-the-state address the following day. They spent the rest of the week filing bills, in organizational meetings and receiving information reports from state agencies before adjourning Thursday for the long King holiday weekend.
“For all practical purposes things start Tuesday,” House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, said at the end of the week. “Real committee meetings, with the public there and testifying, I think it’s time to start the real work.”
On Wednesday, gun rights could draw attention.
The House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs is expected to consider House Resolution 1003 urging the preservation of the Second Amendment, a response by freshman Rep. Richard Womack, R-Arkadelphia, to new gun restrictions proposed by President Obama last week in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre.
Womack said he filed the non-binding resolution after receiving numerous phone calls from constituents concerned about Obama’s proposals, which included limiting the number of rounds in a clip and stricter background checks.
“My constituents feel that the federal government is not in touch with their wishes and that the Second Amendment is being intruded upon, so we just wanted to shore up our delegation’s understanding of the people of the state,” Womack said.
He said lawmakers are sensitive to the need to protect people from gun violence.
“My colleagues are looking at every available avenue to address the problems and really nothing is off the table at this point,” he said, declining to elaborate.
Also Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to take up Senate Bill 71, known as the Church Protection Act of 2013.
The proposal by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, who also opposes the president’s proposals, would let church officials decide whether they want to allow people with concealed handgun permits to carry weapons in the places of worship.
King filed the same measure in 2011 as a House member. It passed the House but died in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
King said many constituents urged him to refile the measure and the president’s gun control plan has made people more concerned.
“It has brought more interest out,” he said. “You know a church, it’s just like those schools, it’s a soft target.”
King said his bill would not mandate anything.
“It just lets each church decide what policy they want to have,” he said. “They can allow anybody in the church to conceal, they can only designate certain people to carry or they cannot allow anybody to carry.”
Also this week, SB 65, which would remove race as a factor in deciding whether students can transfer between districts, could be before the Senate Education Committee, said the sponsor, Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home.
Key, who chairs the committee, said last week he was waiting on a fiscal impact report before running the bill.
The committee meets Wednesday.
The bill was filed the same day last week that the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis heard oral arguments in appeals of a federal judge’s ruling last year that struck down Arkansas’ school choice law.
U.S. District Judge Robert T. Dawson said in June that a raced-based provision in the 1989 Arkansas Public School Choice Act violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law.
Key said his bill “just takes the racial component that has been deemed unconstitutional” out of the law, making it “open choice.”
Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-East End, had originally planned to run HB 1037, known as the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, at Thursday’s House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor but said he will wait another week.
Mayberry said he was having a difficult time scheduling some of the witnesses, adding that one witness will be traveling from another state.
The measure would ban abortions in the state after the 20th week of pregnancy because some studies have determined that is the time when a fetus begins feeling pain, supporters of the bill have said.
Mayberry filed a similar bill in 2011 but that measure failed to get out of the House public health committee.