After Gov. Asa Hutchinson outlined his $5.6 billion budget for fiscal 2019, lawmakers on Monday filed several non-appropriation bills that could turn the legislature’s attention away from the state’s financial business during the 30-day session.
At least two resolutions filed on the first day of the 2018 fiscal session revisit the controversial “guns on campus” legislation that dominated the 91st General Assembly a year ago. During the 2017 regular session, lawmakers passed the state’s new concealed carry law sponsored by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, which allows for permit holders with enhanced training to have guns on college campuses and an expanded list of public places in Arkansas.
That measure, now Act 562 of 2017, also added last-minute exemptions to keep guns out of sports arenas, the state hospital and the UAMS campus. The new rules went into effect on Sept. 1, but the Arkansas State Police was given an additional 120 days to design the new training requirements for handgun owners looking to obtain the enhanced license to carry their weapons virtually anywhere.
However, resolutions by Rep. Bob Ballinger of Berryville and Sen. Trent Garner of El Dorado in the House and Senate, respectively, would remove the extra training requirements for enhanced concealed carry licenses and will allow Arkansas gun owners to carry their weapons into bars and restaurants, airports, state buildings, the State Capitol and across college campuses and other places. According to state police officials, the new training standards will take up to eight hours to complete.
Ballinger and Garner, both Republicans, were critics of several House and Senate amendments to weaken Collin’s guns on campus bill a year ago, leading to long floor debates on the state’s open carry law and the Second Amendment. During one committee hearing, Hot Springs resident Jan Morgan caused a stir in a packed Senate committee hearing when she told lawmakers she was upset she couldn’t open carry at the State Capitol.
Morgan, a former Second Amendment analyst for Fox News who is now running for governor on the Republican ticket against Gov. Hutchinson, had supported a Senate bill that would have allowed gun owners the right to carry guns anywhere they please.
On the other hand, House and Senate resolutions filed by Rep. Greg Leding of Fayetteville and Sen. Will Bond of Little Rock, both Democrats, would prevent a concealed handgun in university dorm rooms or residence halls in Arkansas. Both argued during committee hearings a year ago that the Arkansas legislature was moving toward being an open carry state without restrictions.
In an interview with Talk Business & Politics last year after his hotly-debated bill was approved by the General Assembly with several last-minute exemptions, however, Collins said he did not expect any additional changes to his concealed carry legislation unless warranted.
“I feel very good about where we landed,” Collins said. “At this time, I don’t see an improvement to make to the bill as we’ve laid that out… I’m not currently planning anything of that nature, but I’m always open to ideas.”
Other non-appropriation resolutions filed Monday would halt new enrollments in the Arkansas Works program, limit school choice transfers, prevent all-terrain vehicles on public streets and highways, and regulate so-called PBMs, or pharmacy benefit managers, across the state.
By law, legislators cannot consider non-budget related bills unless there is a two-thirds vote in favor of a resolution. The deadline for filing appropriation bills and non-appropriation legislation with an identical resolution approved by the legislature is Feb. 26.
A month ago, the Joint Budget Committee began holding hearings on budget requests for higher education institutions, Department of Education Public School Fund Account, the Department of Human Services, Department of Health, Department of Correction and the Department of Community Correction, commonly referred to the “Big 6.”
The fiscal session that began on Monday is expected to end March 13 unless there is a three-fourths vote to extend it an additional 15 days.