Guns and liquor rarely mix, but they were the center of attention at the state capitol on Tuesday (Jan. 19). Arkansas state senators easily passed SB 24, the bill known as “Stand your Ground” – sending the measure to the House Judiciary committee, where it will likely face its most difficult hurdle.
The bill ends the duty for citizens to retreat when using physical or deadly force. It is supported by gun rights advocates and opposed by gun control activists. The high-profile bill, sponsored by Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, and others, sailed through the State Senate on a 27-7 vote with one member not voting. There was substantial debate.
Ballinger said his bill is not a “license to kill” nor did it imply that a person could “shoot first and ask questions later.” He noted that 34 other states have a version of this legislation. Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, said it was important to straighten out the law on circumstances such as the ones that could occur in a “stand your ground” situation.
“Many prosecutors across the country on their rulings on retreat, [they] rule that you have to turn your back on your assailant. This changes that, that’s important,” Clark said.
Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, who has previously opposed the bill, said she did not feel current law needed further clarification.
“All of a sudden after 74 years?” she asked. “Is this the best policy to deal with behavior of persons that it’s left to the one using the deadly force to form a belief, based on their perception of that person, that they use the deadly force against?”
The first three speakers to oppose the bill were the Senate’s African-American female legislators. Sen. Jim Hendren, an opponent of the bill, said he felt that was significant.
“This is a real concern that people who don’t look like me have,” Hendren said.
Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, said he didn’t believe the bill was racist, though issues of race have been framed around the bill.
“I do object to the notion that voting for this bill is racist – it’s not. We are voting for every person to be able to defend themselves,” he said.
Sen. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, said the measure takes Arkansas in the wrong direction from its history.
“I don’t look at this bill as a gun rights bill. This does not change the laws to own a firearm. It makes it more legal to kill people,” he said.
The measure now heads to the House Judiciary committee, where Democrats control 9 of the 20 seats. One Republican vote against passage would stall the bill on the House end and that’s where the drama will be. Several House Judiciary committee members have declined to take a stance on the bill.
ALCOHOL TO GO
In other legislative business, the Senate City, County and Local Affairs committee passed SB 32 on a unanimous vote. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, would authorize a retail liquor permit holder to deliver alcoholic beverages directly to a consumer.
There are restrictions that the store that holds the permit can only provide this service in the county where it holds the permit, and it must be delivered by an employee – not a third party delivery person. It just applies to liquor stores, not restaurants and bars.
Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, expressed concern that liquor could be delivered and received by underage individuals.
“Do you envision a record being kept by the retail liquor permit holder in terms of where the delivery was made and at least some kind of record of how they identified who was requesting the liquor be delivered and the age?” she asked.
English said records would be kept by liquor stores, although the bill did not mandate that. Doralee Chandler, director of the Alcohol Beverage Control board, said there would have to be regulations put in place to require that.
“As it stands right now, our rules prohibit a delivery of alcohol from a liquor store so we will have to amend our rules to allow that or there will be violations of our rules every time they deliver,” Chandler said.
This measure was brought forward in response to the pandemic, which led to reduced sales as many individuals quarantined. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
LEGISLATIVE REDISTRICTING, COVID-19
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced Tuesday the leaders who will help oversee legislative redistricting efforts for her office.
Former Republican Party of Arkansas chair Doyle Webb will work with former State Representatives Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, and Doug House, R-North Little Rock, on Rutledge’s team for the Board of Apportionment. Webb is also a former State Senator.
The Board of Apportionment – which includes the Governor, Attorney General and Secretary of State – will redraw all 100 House districts and all 35 Senate districts as part of the once-a-decade Census process. The redrawn districts will be the legislative lines for all House and Senate races in the 2022 election cycle.
Lastly, Rep. Keith Slape, R-Compton, becomes the second state lawmaker this session to test positive for COVID-19. Slape’s symptoms were described as mild.
Editor’s note: Marine Glisovic, senior political reporter for KATV, contributed to this report.