by Mark Carter
Posted 2/18/2013 12:00 am
Guns and abortions were featured items on the legislative agenda again last week at the 89th General Assembly, but Arkansas lawmakers ventured into other areas as well.
From voting to reward “whistleblowers” in state agencies who expose fraud to restructuring the Arkansas lottery scholarship distribution, legislators took on a variety of issues, while Medicaid expansion and its funding loomed in the background.
Guns in Church, on Campus
Gov. Mike Beebe, as promised, signed into law a bill giving churches the option of allowing concealed carry permit holders to carry in church.
The law will remove churches from the list of places prohibited from allowing concealed weapons. A companion bill is working its way through the Capitol that will require those churches that opt in to post signs indicating they have done so.
A modified proposal to allow faculty and staff to carry on college campuses advanced last week. Rep. Charlie Collins’ bill passed committee and was awaiting a full House vote. The amended version of the Fayetteville Republican’s measure would give colleges and universities the option of allowing faculty and staff to bring guns on campus.
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 131 worked its way toward becoming law. The measure by Sen. Bruce Holland, R-Greenwood, would make secret the list of 130,000 or so Arkansans registered to carry concealed guns. Currently, the names and ZIP codes of concealed carry permit holders are subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
The bill has passed the Senate and now heads to the House floor for an expected stamp of approval before reaching Beebe’s desk, where its fate remains unknown. Even if Beebe were to veto the measure, Arkansas law requires a simple majority to override.
Abortion bills were batted back and forth last week. Rep. Andy Mayberry’s 20-week abortion ban advanced through Senate committee after the Hensley Republican added exemptions for rape and incest. It had originally included an exemption for the life of the mother. Already House approved, it awaits a full Senate vote.
Senate Bill 134, meanwhile, would ban most abortions at 12 weeks. The measure by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, failed to clear House committee last week despite amendments adding exemptions for the life of the mother and “lethal fetal disorders.”
House sponsor Rep. Ann Clemmer, R-Benton, planned to run the bill again this week.
The House approved a bill that would reward “whistleblowers” in state government whose exposure of fraud and waste leads to savings.
The bill, House Bill 1043 from Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, would reward such whistleblowers with up to 10 percent of the savings gained from the discovery of the fraud or waste. The reward would be capped at $125,000 unless approved by the Legislature. The bill now heads to the Senate.
Lottery Scholarship Distribution
The formula funding the state’s lottery scholarships would be changed under a bill by Rep. Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, that passed out of House committee last week.
The bill would change the formula to provide $2,000 for entering freshmen at four-year colleges and universities in the state and adding $1,000 each year ultimately capped at $5,000 for seniors. Students at two-year colleges would receive $2,000 per year.
Currently, lottery scholarship students get $4,500 for every year at a four-year school and $2,250 for each year at a two-year school.
A bill requiring Arkansas voters to show a photo ID before they could cast a ballot was moved through Senate committee last week. The measure from Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, would allow voters to cast a provisional ballot without an ID. Voters would have until the following Monday to provide county election officials with an ID, and voters without an ID could cast a ballot if they sign an affidavit.
State law currently requires election officials to ask for an ID but one is not required to vote.