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Collins' campus gun bill shot down in committee

by Claudia Lauer | February 6, 2015 at 3:00 a.m.

LITTLE ROCK -- A House bill to let professors carry guns on campus was defeated in committee Thursday.

The House also approved several bills, including one that would require computer science courses in all public high schools and another that would prevent a state board from regulating yoga instruction.

The Senate also passed legislation Thursday.

In the House Education Committee, Democrats shot down a bill allowing public college faculty and staff with conceal and carry permits to carry on campus.

Current law lets officials at each school set their own gun policy. All of the state's public colleges and universities prohibit them.

The sponsor of House Bill 1077, Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, invoked the massacres at Columbine High School in Colorado, Santa Monica College in California, and Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., arguing his legislation might help prevent a similar tragedy in Arkansas.

Collins said the types of attackers who engage in mass shootings look for environments that are gun-free so they know they will not encounter another person with a gun.

HB 1077, he said, might "deter some of these individuals from coming to our college campuses and murdering our loved ones."

On Thursday, several legislators questioned whether more guns would mean less violence.

Rep. Mark McElroy, D-Tillar, is a conceal and carry permit holder and a self-professed gun lover, but he questioned whether the state ought to decree the autonomous campuses be required to let faculty and staff bring weapons on campus against their wishes. He also mused the legislation could be just one step closer to having weapons everywhere, including the state Capitol.

"When do we start overreaching our authority and start dictating rather than having a democracy?" he asked.

Additional resistance came from a group of college students.

Ezra Smith, a junior at the University of Arkansas, told lawmakers the bill was unworkable. A six-hour weekend conceal and carry course doesn't train someone to properly defend students or people, Smith said.

"You are more likely to hit me than the active shooter," she said.

Joel Anderson, chancellor at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, said he wouldn't feel comfortable having a confrontational meeting with an employee if he knew that employee could be armed.

The vote was split 10-10, the committee's Republicans supporting Collins while the 10 Democrats voted against the legislation.

Also Thursday, the Senate voted 31-0 to approve SB4 which calls for giving terminally ill patients access to experimental drugs.

"This will be a living-savings measure. Some people could access things that they haven't accessed to previously," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. John Cooper, R-Jonesboro.

In other action, the Senate voted to hold the election for the next Senate president pro tempore in 2017 and 2018 at the end of next year's fiscal session instead of doing it at the end of this year's regular session. For most of Arkansas history, lawmakers were only scheduled to meet every other year in regular sessions. Now that there are yearly sessions, lawmakers wanted the election to be closer to the end of the General Assembly's two-year term.

On the House floor Thursday, members approved three measures that will make their way to Senate committees next week. House Bill 1132, sponsored by Rep. Monte Hodges, D-Blytheville, gives additional recycling tax credits for owners of a company if an Arkansas public retirement system is an owner.

Several members raised concerns about whether the bill was favoritism, but it cleared the House by a vote of 84-8.

The House also passed a revised House Bill 1072, sponsored by Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro, which repeals the state's current treatment assessment for companies that provide children's behavioral health services.

Providers, including Sullivan, who is the chief executive officer of Ascent Children's Health Services, have complained the current assessment is expensive and reveals little about overall treatment. Under the amended bill, Human Services will have until Sept. 30 to approve a suitable replacement measure.

Members also backed a bill that starts the ball rolling on the governor's plan to require high schools to provide at least one computer science course starting in the 2015-16 school year.

Under the House Bill 1183, sponsored by Rep. Bill Gossage, R-Ozark, the computer-science course would have to meet the state Board of Education curriculum standards and requirements, and be made available in "a traditional classroom setting, blended learning environment, online-based format that is tailored to meet the needs of each participating school." The bill would also create the computer-science and technology task force.

Members also approved several Senate bills headed to the governor's desk, including SB30, sponsored by Sen. Blake Johnson, R-Corning, to decrease the number of professional development days required for teachers and SB94, sponsored by Sen. Uvalde Lindsey, which would bar the state Board of Private Career Education from regulating yoga and other instructor-training programs.

The House also passed more than a dozen appropriation bills to fund various commissions and agencies including the Arkansas Ethics Commission and the Governor's Mansion Commission.

NW News on 02/06/2015

Print Headline: Campus gun bill shot down in committee


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