House approves bill to ban gun restrictions in emergencies


LITTLE ROCK — The House on Tuesday approved a bill that would remove the governor’s authority to suspend or limit the sale, dispensing or transportation of firearms during an emergency.

Without debate, the House also approved legislation that would make it a crime to harm an unborn child from conception to birth.

The gun bill, House Bill 1819 by Rep. Charlotte Douglas, R-Alma, passed in a 78-9 vote.

Douglas said the bill is part of the National Rifle Association’s legislative package and is intended to ensure that Arkansans are able to defend themselves in times when the government may not be able to defend them.

“What I am asking you to vote on today is the preservation of a basic right for all Arkansans, you and I, to be able to defend our families and bear arms during emergencies,” Douglas told House members. “There is no emergency exception to the people’s Bill of Rights.”

Speaking against the bill, Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, said it appeared to afford people opportunity to offer armed resistance in the event that the governor calls in the National Guard to restore order in an emergency.

“The idea cannot go forth from this chamber that the right to bear arms is a right to bear arms against this government,” he said.

Matt DeCample, a spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe, said in an interview that the governor’s office is still reviewing the bill. He noted that Beebe has never exercised the authority that the bill would remove.

The bill goes to the Senate.

The House voted 76-10 to approve Senate Bill 417 by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, which would change the definition of “unborn child” in criminal and wrongful death statutes.

Under current law, criminal charges and wrongful death lawsuits can be brought against a person who harms a fetus at 12 weeks or more of gestation. SB 417 would allow action against a person who harms an unborn child at any point from conception to birth.

The bill goes to the Senate for concurrence in a House amendment that added exemptions for certain situations, including contraception and in vitro fertilization procedures.

The House voted 82-2 to approve SB 332 by Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, which would raise the contribution rate school districts must pay for the public school employees’ health insurance program.

Currently, the minimum amount per employee is $131 a month. Under SB 322, districts would be required to pay at least $150 a month per employee.

The bill goes to the governor.

In a 90-0 vote, the House approved SB 803 by Sen. Bobby Pierce, D-Sheridan, which would allow the state Board of Correction to implement a co-pay charge for inmate-initiated health care requests. The co-pay would be $3 per visit.

The bill goes to the governor.

The House rejected SB 737 by Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, a bill to appropriate up to $2 million in surplus money to the Department of Human Services’ Division of Behavioral Health, in a 39-11 vote.

Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, told House members he has repeatedly requested a meeting with Division of Behavioral Health officials to talk about a 7-year-old girl who is in a mental institution, but no meeting has happened. He asked that SB 737 be held up until officials meet with him.

The Senate on Tuesday passed SB 857 by Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, which would require the Department of Workforce Services to make quarterly reports to the Legislative Council on the department’s efforts to enforce laws that require people on unemployment to seek suitable employment or lose benefits.

The bill passed 34-0 and goes to the House.

Elsewhere Tuesday, the House Transportation Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation to SB 225 by Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, which would prohibit the names of children involved in traffic accidents from being released to the public. The bill goes to the House.

The House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee endorsed HB 1929 by Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, which would establish new criteria and procedures for assessing water quality in Arkansas. The bill goes to the House.