LITTLE ROCK — Legislation that would let church officials decide whether to allow people with concealed handgun permits to carry weapons in places of worship sailed through the Senate on Monday.
The House, in a voice vote, approved House Resolution 1003 by Rep. Richard Womack, R-Arkadelphia, which encourages federal officials to preserve the Second Amendment.
Senate Bill 71, the guns in church bill by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, passed the Senate 28-4.
King, who was elected to the Senate in November, filed similar legislation in 2011 when he was in the House. It passed the House but died in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Last week, SB71 easily cleared the same committee with backing from the National Rifle Association.
“What this bill is designed to do, or the intent is, to give each church the individual decision on what they want to do for security,” King told the Senate on Monday.
Sen. Alan Clark, R-Hot Springs, urged senators to support the bill. “Being a pastor’s kid, maybe I’ve paid more attention to churches and church shootings over the years than others, but sometimes threats are made … if you know you are in danger, those people in church are in danger and you don’t have the money to hire security guard, you’ve got a problem and you would be violating the law if you carry a gun,” Clark said.
Opponents complained that church was no place for carrying lethal weapons.
“My Lord’s house is a house for prayer, not for guns,” said Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock.
Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, said she supports the Second Amendment but expressed concern that the proposal does not require churches that allow concealed weapons inside to obtain liability insurance. She tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to add such a requirement in committee.
“What would happen if someone, if some innocent one, was injured?,” she asked Monday.
King said later that he planned to run his bill in the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, predicted Monday the committee would endorse the bill and the House would pass it.
“The question that the General Assembly has in front of it is, should (churches) have the right to make that decision for themselves? I think they answer to that is yes, and I think the bill will pass the House,” said Carter said.
Gov. Mike Beebe has said he has no problem with the measure.
Womack, a House freshman, said last week he filed the nonbinding gun rights resolution that the House approved Monday in response to new gun restrictions proposed by President Obama in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre.
Among other things, the president has proposed limiting the maximum number of rounds in a clip and requiring stricter background checks for gun buyers.
There was no discussion on the measure before the vote.
Also Monday, the House gave final legislative approval to a pair of Senate bills and sent them to the governor.
SB 82 by Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, passed the House passed 96-0. It would would pay about 125 court assistants across the state for two months until lawmakers can find a permanent source to cover a shortfall in the Administration of Justice Fund.
Rep. Duncan Baird, R-Lowell, co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, presented the bill in the House and said a work group of legislators is looking for a long-term means of funding pay for court assistants. The bill goes to the governor.
In a 97-0 vote, the House approved Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Eddie Williams, R-Cabot, which would allow spouses of personnel stationed at military installations in Arkansas to transfer any professional licenses or degrees in health care or education that they have in other states.
SB 4 by Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, passed in the House in a 98-0 vote. The bill would allow community colleges to call millage elections to raise money for the construction, operation and maintenance of buildings or to retire bonded indebtedness.
Current law allows community colleges to call millage elections to raise operating funds but does not specify that the schools can use millage revenue to pay off bonds.
The bill, which previously passed the Senate, goes back to the Senate for concurrence in a House amendment.
The Senate passed SB 56 by Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, which would require out-of-state sex offenders to pay a $250 fee to register as a sex offender in Arkansas. The bill passed 31-0 and now goes to the House.
SB 53 by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, passed 35-0 and goes to the House. It would require doctors working for medical corporations owned out of state to be licensed in Arkansas to practice.