Week seven of the Arkansas legislative session has come to a close, as members of the 90th General Assembly have successfully completed 47 days of the people’s work here in Arkansas. State legislators were not deterred by the winter storm that swept through most of the state this week, and were able to pass a number of significant bills. Please find below a quick snapshot of some of the key issues that transpired this week inside the Capitol:
Guns on Campus
HB 1077, which originally failed on a 10-10 party-line vote, passed out of the House Education Committee on Thursday. This piece of legislation would require public universities and colleges to allow staff members with concealed-weapon permits to carry firearms on campus. A number of Democrats worked with State Representative Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, to create an amendment to the bill that would get it out of committee. The amendment will require active shooter training for permit holders as well as prohibiting guns at day care centers on campus. The training class includes 16-hours in initial training as well as eight hours annually in training. The bill now goes to the House floor for additional discussion.
On Thursday, Governor Hutchinson signed into law legislation abolishing the nine-member Arkansas Lottery Commission and placing the Department of Finance & Administration in complete control. The bill also sets up a 12-member legislative committee to conduct oversight.
On Wednesday, the Senate Public Health Committee passed SB183 by Senator Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, which would give Arkansas elected officials responsibility for approving a key pollution-control plan. SB183 would bar the state Department of Environmental Quality from submitting a state plan to the Environmental Protection Agency to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-fired electricity generation plants until approval by the governor or state legislature.
A proposal to abolish Arkansas’ death penalty is heading to the full state Senate. On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed legislation that would eliminate the death penalty as a sentencing option in capital murder cases. Arkansas has 32 inmates on death row but hasn’t executed anyone in since 2005. Senator David Burnett, sponsor of the bill, said he no longer believes the death penalty is a deterrent to violent crime. The bill will face additional opposition in the Senate chamber.
A “conscience-protection” proposal that some believe is an attempt to sanction discrimination against gays and lesbians failed in a Senate Committee earlier this week. The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected the bill that would ban any local or state laws or regulations that substantially burden religious beliefs unless a “compelling governmental interest” is proven. The bill failed on a 3-3 vote.
Asa Hutchinson has made good on a campaign promise by signing into law a measure requiring public high schools to offer courses in computer science. Hutchinson signed House Bill 1183, which creates a mandate for more computer instruction at public high schools and charter schools, as well as creating a commission to study how to further computer literacy in Arkansas education.