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Legislators heard a plan Thursday to cut the application fee for Arkansans who want a conceal-carry gun license.

Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, presented the results of his interim study on lowering the conceal-carry license fees to a joint meeting of the House and Senate State Agencies committees. The study considered the cost of cutting the fees in half or reducing them by 25 percent; Dotson said he is still drafting legislation he plans to introduce during the 2015 session.

"I will continue to consider this and look at that spot this fee needs to be set at to try to make sure that the state police continues to operate and function and serve the citizens keeping them safe ... balancing that with making sure that Arkansans have their basic rights to carry protected at the most affordable rate possible," he said.

According to the study, Arkansans paid more than $2.6 million in application fees for conceal-carry licenses in fiscal 2014, which was a decrease from the fiscal 2013 record of almost $4.7 million -- the year after both the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., and the mass shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater.

Dotson said the budget for the state police division that processes those licenses was about $375,544 in fiscal 2014.

"If we were to reduce the fees even by 50 percent across the board, we would still have an excess of $1 million in revenue being collected from this program," he said.

Right now, the state charges $100 for new license applications, with people over the age of 65 charged $50. A five-year renewal application costs $35. Duplicate licenses and late fees cost $15 each, and a transferred license costs $35.

Applicants for new licenses also have to pay fees for federal and state background checks, which would remain the same.

The study looked at cutting the application fees by 25 percent, charging $75 for new licenses and $37.50 for people over the age of 65, for example. Based on the number of applications in fiscal 2014, the result would be a reduction of $655,526 in revenues.

If the state were to cut those fees by 50 percent, charging $50 for new licenses, $25 for people over the age of 65 and so on, revenue would decrease by $1.31 million annually based on the number of license applications in fiscal 2014.

State police representatives said Thursday that the reduction in revenue would not be a small thing for the agency's budget.

"The revenue goes to the general operations of the agency, so that while we do bring in more than the program cost, the money is used to operate the Arkansas State Police," said Emma French, the agency's chief financial officer. "We as an agency do not receive even enough general revenue to cover our salaries. So we rely on these special revenues that come in to finish out our salaries, pay our maintenance and operating costs."

French said the department used the money from fiscal 2014 to replace a decade-old polygraph machine. Other years, the money has been used to make up for excess fuel costs, replace service weapons and pay for ammunition and other agency needs.

A 1995 act gave the Arkansas State Police the responsibility of processing the applications and allowed a fee of $100 to be charged. The fee has not increased over the past 19 years, according to the report. The Legislature passed a bill in 2013 to reduce the price for applicants over the age of 65.

There are currently 172,081 active conceal-carry licenses in Arkansas, with 133,765 of those licenses belonging to people below the age of 65.

The report also included the cost of conceal-carry licenses in every other state.

In Texas, the fee for a new license is $140 and it lasts for four years, when it can be renewed for $70. In Oklahoma, a five-year new license costs $100, and a renewal fee of $85 is charged.

Missouri law limits the charge for new licenses to no more than $100 and renewal licenses to no more than $50. Tennessee charges $115 for new licenses and a $50 for renewals.

And in Louisiana, the fee is $125 for people under 65 years of age and $62.50 for people over 65 years of age. But Louisiana also allows a lifetime permit for $500 or $250, respectively, for those age groups.

About half of the states charge less, including Alabama, which charges between $1 and $20 for new licenses depending on the sheriff, and New Jersey, Idaho and Pennsylvania, which charge $20 for a new license.

Metro on 12/19/2014

Print Headline: Fee cut pitched for conceal-carry guns

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