On-campus guns bill gets tweak
The Arkansas Senate on Thursday voted to add an active-shooter training requirement to a bill that would allow college faculty and staff members who have concealed-carry weapon permits to take guns onto campuses.
The Senate voted 2210 to add the amendment proposed by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, to House Bill 1249 by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, the day after the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected a similar amendment
that Hutchinson proposed. The bill was amended over the opposition of Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, who is the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.
Thursday’s action prompted Garner to declare that he would propose amending the bill to allow anyone with a concealed-carry permit — not just faculty and staff members — to take a weapon onto the campus of any public twoyear or four-year university, if that person undergoes the same training the amendment requires.
In a related matter, an appropriation measure for fouryear universities failed to clear the House later Thursday, after Collins cited the possible cost of the active-shooter training amendment.
“The colleges may be requiring people to get dozens and dozens of hours of gun training, and I think we need to get that resolved — how much money it’s going to take for that — before we start allocating money in other places,” he said. “I would vote ‘no’ on this at this time.”
The House’s 55-33 vote on Senate Bill 314 fell 20 votes short of the 75 required for approval in the 100-member House.
The bill would grant millions of dollars in discretionary spending authority for proposed building projects at the state’s four-year universities. The proposed projects would be financed out of the state’s General Improvement Fund that largely consists of surplus general revenue. State officials haven’t forecast a surplus for fiscal 2017, which ends June 30.
Under the current firearms-on-campus law, passed in 2013, colleges are allowed to opt out of allowing faculty and staff members to take their weapons on campus. All public universities in state have opted out.
HB1249 would require public colleges and universities to allow their staff members to carry handguns on campus. College administrators, as well as campus and city police departments, have mostly lined up against HB1249.
Hutchinson told senators that he agrees that there is a need for allowing guns on campus under certain circumstances.
He said he sponsored legislation two years ago that requires active-shooter training for employees who carry weapons in public schools, and he’s received no complaints about the training requirement.
“I think if we are going to mandate policy … we ought to get the policy right,” Hutchinson said.
He said his proposed amendment would require faculty and staff members who have concealed-carry permits to undergo 16 hours of training as provided by the Arkansas State Police before they are allowed to carry weapons on campus.
Garner urged senators to reject Hutchinson’s amendment.
He said Collins has worked hard on this legislation for several years and that Hutchinson’s amendment didn’t exist until Wednesday. College faculty and staff members could undergo the training without it being required in Collins’ legislation, Garner said.
Senate Republican leader Jim Hendren of Sulphur Springs said he would vote for the bill. He said “this is serious business and [about] more than just politics and push cards.”
The weapons-permitted college faculty and staff members “will be prepared better” by undergoing the training required under Hutchinson’s amendment “than if there were none,” said Hendren, who is Hutchinson’s cousin.
Hutchinson said that after the House approved Collins’ bill, he approached Collins about amending the measure, but they were unsuccessful in reaching a consensus.
Collins said he offered Hutchinson and higher-education officials two options — either leave the bill as it was — limited concealed carry to staff members — or add a training requirement and allow anyone who completes it and has a permit to carry a weapon on campus.
The higher-education officials rejected Collins’ second option because it would allow students to carry weapons on campus.
On Wednesday, Hutchinson told the Senate Judiciary Committee that a 16-hour training requirement could ease weapon-carry security concerns of campus police and administrators. But supporters of the bill questioned the cost and the need for such enhanced training. The amendment failed to clear the eight-member committee because only Hutchinson and Sen. Will Bond, D-Little Rock, voted for it.
The resurgence of the amendment Thursday seemed to catch Collins off guard. He suggested that opponents were attempting to derail the bill.
“It’s not about training, it’s about something else,” Collins said Thursday afternoon.
At a Thursday news conference, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said “I have a history of supporting the safety in the classroom, and it has to be by armed personnel.
“There’s some serious objections that have been raised in terms of safety so I want to meet, depending on what happens in the Senate, I want to have an opportunity to talk further with Rep. Collins, as well the higher- education officials that have expressed concerns,” the Republican governor said.
“There’s hopefully a willingness to address some of my concerns for coordination training with the law enforcement that’s already on the campus,” Hutchinson said. The governor is the uncle of Hendren and Sen. Hutchinson.
Speaking to a reporter Thursday outside the House chamber — soon after Collins spoke against the higher-education appropriation — Sen. Hutchinson said he was cautious in light of the day’s events.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Sen. Hutchinson said. “I can’t predict the Senate anymore.”
Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, also was cautious. He has repeatedly said that constituents in his district, which includes the University of Arkansas campus, overwhelmingly oppose HB1249. He said the House, which passed the original bill 71-22, could either strip Hutchinson’s amendment or include the amendment proposed by Collins and Garner.
Even in its present amended form, Leding said, he would still oppose the bill.
“I’m grateful to Sen. Hutchinson, I think it makes an awful bill a little less awful,” Leding said.
Rep. Douglas House, R-North Little Rock, presents a bill Thursday in the House to allow medical-marijuana patients with chronic conditions to keep certification for three years instead of having to renew annually. The measure was sent back to committee, while four other marijuana-related bills were approved.