LITTLE ROCK — Guns in schools, ‘conscience protection,’ the state lottery and telemedicine abortions are among the topics that are before state lawmakers as they head into the sixth week of the legislative session.

LITTLE ROCK — Guns in schools, ‘conscience protection,’ the state lottery and telemedicine abortions are among the topics that are before state lawmakers as they head into the sixth week of the legislative session.


Lawmakers also will be wrestling with the issues of prison overcrowding and what procedure to use in considering proposed constitutional amendments.


The House is expected to vote this week on Senate Bill 164 by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, which would allow Arkansas school districts to apply to the Arkansas State Police for permission to arm teachers and staff. State police would establish a training curriculum, conduct background checks and issue licenses to school employees who are selected by their districts to double as security officers.


Hutchinson said last week that many districts cannot afford school resource officers. He said that in some school districts the response time of the local sheriff’s office is 40 minutes, which he said would allow a shooter "40 minutes to execute as many kids and teachers as the shooter can" if no one else on campus is armed.


The bill also would abolish the state Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies and give all of the board’s duties to the Arkansas State Police. The Senate approved the bill last week in a 33-1 vote.


Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindville, said he expects the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote this week on House Bill 1228, titled the Conscience Protection Act, his bill to bar the state from burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless doing so furthers a compelling government interest and the state uses the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.


The House approved the bill Friday in a 70-20 vote. Supporters say it would promote freedom of religion; opponents say it would protect those who discriminate against gays and other groups.


The House Rules Committee could take action this week on SB 7 by Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, which would abolish the state Lottery Commission and put the lottery under the control of the state Department of Finance and Administration.


Hickey has argued that the best chance of turning around the lottery’s declining revenues is by making it part of the executive branch of government. All 34 members of the Senate voted for the bill last week.


The Senate could vote this week on HB 1076 by Rep. Julie Mayberry, R-Hensley. Under the bill, when an abortion-inducing drug is administered, the doctor who prescribed or dispensed the drug would have to be physically present in the room with the patient.


The bill seeks to prevent so-called telemedicine abortions, which are not currently performed in Arkansas. Supporters say the bill protects the health of women; opponents say it seeks to restrict women’s access to abortions.


The bill passed previously in the House in an 83-4 vote. A mirror bill, SB 53 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain Home, passed in the Senate on Thursday in a 29-4 vote and is expected to be considered this week in the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.


The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider HB 1197 by Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, on Tuesday. Under the bill, a person under age 18 could not be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.


The bill also would provide that a person under 18 who is sentenced to life would be eligible for parole after serving 20 years if he or she did not cause the death of a person and did not intend to cause the death of a person. If the juvenile did cause a person’s death or intended to cause a person’s death, he or she would be eligible for parole after serving 28 years.


"Studies show that teens’ brains just aren’t fully developed at that point, and they don’t necessarily understand the long-term consequences of their actions," Leding said. "That’s not in any way to excuse their crimes, but I think it’s absolutely something that must be considered when handing out appropriate punishments."


Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, said he hopes to present HB 1272 in the House Education Committee this week. The bill would permit public school districts to teach about "the history of traditional winter celebrations" and allow students and school employees to offer greetings such as "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Hanukkah."


Harris said he filed the bill after seeing his home school district announce a "winter break" instead of a "Christmas break."


Harris also said he hopes to present HB 1271 in the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee this week. Under the bill, eight members of the state Board of Education would be elected and one would be appointed by the governor. Currently, all board members are appointed by the governor.


Under the current rules, the board "will represent the view of whichever governor is in power, and I want the view of the people," Harris said.


He said he also hopes to present HB 1349 in the House Judiciary Committee this week. The bill would prohibit the use an unmanned aircraft, or drone, to commit an act of video voyeurism.


Rep. Jack Ladyman, R-Jonesboro, said he plans to present HB 1355 in the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee this week. The bill would allow cities and counties to decide whether to put fluoride in their public water systems, which currently is mandated statewide.


Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he wants the Legislature to address prison overcrowding during this session, though he has not endorsed building a new prison. Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, said he expects lawmakers to work through this week on that issue and have a package of legislation ready sometime in the following week.


The deadline for filing proposed constitutional amendments was last Wednesday. The Legislature can refer up to three to the ballot, a selection process that in the past has been handled by a joint House and Senate committee — but legislators are in discussions about possibly trying a different approach this session.


"There were a lot of problems with the issue last time," Gillam said.


Among the proposed amendments that legislators filed this session are measures to abolish the office of lieutenant governor, abolish fiscal sessions, revamp legislative term limits, require voters to show photo identification at the polls, limit what courts can do in civil cases, choose Supreme Court justices through a merit selection process instead of elections, and limit education funding to a certain percentage of the state budget.