LITTLE ROCK — The House on Monday gave final legislative approval to a bill that would authorize churches to decide whether to allow a concealed handgun permit holder to carry a handgun in the building.
The House also approved bills that would ban an abortion after 20 weeks and prohibit an insurer from offering abortion coverage through the state’s health insurance exchange except through a separate rider.
No one spoke against the guns-in-church measure, Senate Bill 71, before it passed on an 85-8 vote.
The bill by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, passed previously in the Senate and now goes to Gov. Mike Beebe. The governor has said he has no problem with the measure.
Currently, Arkansas law prohibits concealed handguns in churches. King told House members that under his bill that prohibition would remain in place unless a church chooses to allow guns.
"This bill merely provides an exemption for those churches who need security but can’t afford paid staff," he said.
King also said the bill is consistent with the First Amendment’s mandate that governments pass no laws respecting an establishment of religion.
House Bill 1037, titled The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, passed by a 75-20 vote. The bill contends that after 20 weeks, a fetus can feel pain. It would ban an abortion at that point except to save the mother from death or physical impairment.
The measure by Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, now goes to the Senate.
"The Bible is very clear that life is a precious gift from God and that we are to value it," Mayberry said while speaking for his bill on the House floor.
Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, the House minority leader, spoke against the bill, saying it includes no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, or for fetal anomalies that would prevent the child from surviving after birth. He also said the bill’s exception for the health of the mother is too narrowly written and that the measure takes decisions away from women and their doctors.
"I for one believe … that such an agonizing decision should be left to a mother and the father, the doctor and their God," Leding said.
Mayberry defended his decision not to include an exception for rape or incest.
"That’s a horrible, tragic situation, but here’s the thing: That child still had nothing to do with that act. That child shouldn’t be asked to pay the ultimate price with their own life," he said.
The bill passed after Rep. Deborah Ferguson, D-West Memphis, moved that it be pulled down for the purpose of amending it. Her motion failed, receiving 31 "yes" votes and 62 "no" votes.
At a news conference after the vote on HB 1037, conservative groups, lawmakers and clergy praised House passage of the measure and voiced support for Senate Bill 134 by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, which would prohibit an abortion if a fetal heart beat can be detected.
The Senate passed Rapert’s bill last week it could be before the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Thursday.
No one in the House spoke against HB 1100 by Rep. Butch Wilkins, D-Bono, the measure to prevent abortion coverage from being sold within the state’s health insurance exchange. The bill passed in a 77-15 vote and goes to the Senate.
Also in the House on Monday:
—HB 1034 by Rep. David Whitaker, D-Fayetteville, passed 92-0. The bill would add members of advertising and promotions commissions to the list of state officials who must file statements of financial interest. It goes to the Senate.
—HB 1134 by Rep. Jon Eubanks, R-Paris, passed 94-0. The bill would establish a uniform time for spring break at K-12 schools and colleges and universities across the state. It goes to the Senate.
—HB 1015 by Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, passed 96-0. The bill would allow school boards to establish policies on student use of electronic communication devices at school. It goes to the Senate.
—SB 12 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, passed 90-0. The bill would prohibit Level 3 and Level 4 sex offenders — the highest-level offenders — from being at a swimming area or children’s playground in a state park. It goes to the governor.
—SB 56 by Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, passed 92-0. The bill would impose a $250 fee on convicted sex offenders who move to Arkansas from out of state, to go toward the cost of reassessing and tracking them. It goes to the governor.
—SB 94 by Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, passed 92-0. The bill would allow county law library boards to give away, sell or destroy personal property, including old law books, that they deem to be no longer needed. The bill goes to the Senate for concurrence in a House amendment.
The Senate did not consider any bills Monday.
Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, filed SB 237 which calls for using one drug in legal injections. He said the bill, written by the attorney general’s office and supported by the state Department of Correction, will address a state Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down the state’s lethal injection law.
Hester said Monday that he filed SB 73 earlier this session to address the Supreme Court court ruling but the AG’s office had some concerns about that proposal and was working on one of its own.
"This just gets everybody on how we should do it," he said. "Certainly they’re going to have to defend it so it has to be something they are completely on board with."
Executions in Arkansas have been on hold since the state’s highest court ruled that the Legislature "abdicated its responsibility" by giving the Department of Correction too much enforcement discretion in violation of the separation of powers doctrine.