LITTLE ROCK — A House committee Tuesday rejected a bill aimed at discouraging public colleges and universities in Arkansas from adopting “sanctuary” policies regarding undocumented immigrants.


House Bill 1042 by Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro, failed in a voice vote in the House Education Committee. Smith told reporters he did not plan to ask the committee to consider the bill again.


Protesters crowded the hall outside the committee room during the meeting, some holding signs expressing opposition to HB 1042 and other bills that opponents see as targeting immigrants.


HB 1042 would require every state college and university in Arkansas to certify every year to the state Department of Higher Education that it does not have a sanctuary policy in place. A school that failed to submit the required certification would be denied state aid for students.


The bill defines a sanctuary policy as a policy that restricts the institution or its employees from cooperating with the federal government in the enforcement of immigration laws; requires the federal government to obtain a warrant or demonstrate probable cause before the institution complies with orders regarding enforcement of immigration laws; prevents law enforcement officers or campus security guards from asking a person about his or her immigration status; or grants to an undocumented immigrant the right to an unlawful presence on campus.


Smith said he was inspired to file the bill after reading a news report about a college professor at Arkansas State University who circulated a petition to make ASU a sanctuary campus. The petition did not lead to adoption of such a policy.


“We’re either a nation of laws or we’re not,” Smith told the committee.


He acknowledged that he and Gov. Asa Hutchinson “do not see eye to eye on this.”


Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-Rogers, noted that state colleges and universities already are prohibited from adopting sanctuary policies under federal law and that the Legislature already has the ability to deny state funding to state colleges and universities.


“My question is, why should I pass a bill to grant myself a power I already have to fix a problem that does not exist?” she said.


Smith said, “There are a lot of things that happen that until they happen, we never considered it.”


Mireya Reith, executive director of Arkansas United Community Coalition and chairman of the state Board of Education, spoke against the bill, saying, “There’s no denying that this targets our immigrant community here in Arkansas, and the reality is here in Arkansas we’ve never passed legislation that targets our immigrants in any sort of way.”


Opponents of the bill burst into applause when it failed to clear the committee.


Other bills that protesters said they oppose included HB 1041, also by Brandt, which would prohibit the application of foreign laws in an Arkansas court if those laws would result in the violation of a fundamental constitutional right, and Senate Bill 14 by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, which would bar a city that adopts a sanctuary policy from receiving funds administered by the state.