LITTLE ROCK — A bill to require public colleges and universities in Arkansas to allow faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns on campus if they have concealed-carry permits received approval Monday in the Arkansas House.

LITTLE ROCK — A bill to require public colleges and universities in Arkansas to allow faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns on campus if they have concealed-carry permits received approval Monday in the Arkansas House.


Also Monday, the Senate unanimously approved a bill that seeks to reduce prison overcrowding, and the House approved a bill that would allow a school district with dwindling enrollment to avoid consolidation with another district in certain circumstances. House and Senate leaders also named their picks for a new task force on health-care reform.


Guns on campus


The House voted 66-25 to approve House Bill 1077 by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville.


The bill would amend a 2013 law, also sponsored by Collins, that lets colleges and universities decide whether to allow employees to carry concealed handguns on campus. Under HB 1077, public institutions would have to allow concealed weapons, although private institutions could continue to opt out.


Collins has said he chose to revisit the issue after every college and university in the state opted not to allow concealed weapons on campus.


HB 1077 also would allow the schools to require employees to receive active shooter training before carrying guns on campus and to ban guns around campus day care centers.


Collins told House members that campus shootings occur about once a month. He said most are planned well in advance, and most are stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention.


"The potential of running into somebody that could stop him is enough to deter some of these killers," Collins said.


Reps. John Walker, D-Little Rock, Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, and Mark McElroy, D-Tillar, spoke against the bill.


McElroy assured House members that he is not "a namby pamby" who hates guns. He said he loves "guns, grits and gravy," but believes the decision about concealed handguns should be left to the institutions.


"Are we for local control? We say we are, till we’re not," he said.


Rep. Bob Ballinger spoke in support of the bill. He suggested that the people running colleges and universities may be biased against guns.


"I think that what we have here is a bit of a culture that has permeated higher education that treats a gun like a rattlesnake," he said.


The bill goes to the Senate.


Prison overcrowding


The Senate voted 33-0 to approve Senate Bill 472 by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Benton. The bill contains key portions of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s plan to address prison overcrowding.


Among other things, the bill would require a person on probation or parole to be referred to a mental-health or substance-abuse treatment provider, or both; create a process for establishing new drug courts and other alternative sentencing courts; and create a process for the state to contract with private groups, including faith-based groups, for services for offenders.


Some senators have raised concerns about a provision to give law enforcement officers authority to enter the home of a person on probation or parole without a search warrant. Hutchinson, the governor’s nephew, said the bill will be amended in the House to address those concerns.


School consolidation


House members voted 95-0 to approve HB 1263 by Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs, which would allow a district with a student population that is below 350 for two consecutive years to request a waiver from mandatory consolidation if the district is not in academic, fiscal or facilities distress or on probation for accreditation violations.


"This helps schools that really need help," Cozart, the chairman of the House Education Committee, told House members.


The bill goes to the Senate.


Health care task force


Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, and House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, announced their appointments Monday to the Arkansas Health Reform Legislative Task Force.


The task force is created by Act 46 of 2015, which contains the governor’s proposal to end the Medicaid expansion program known as the private option on Dec. 31, 2016, and in the meantime have a task force look for an alternative model that could replace it.


Dismang named Sens. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers; Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock; Jason Rapert, R-Conway; David Sanders, R-Little Rock; and John Cooper, R-Jonesboro, to the panel and designated Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, to serve on his behalf.


Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, and Minority Leader Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, are automatically members under Act 46 and have not appointed designees to serve in their place.


Gillam named Reps. David Meeks, R-Conway; Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna; Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith; Joe Farrer, R-Austin; and Collins to the panel and designated Rep. Kim Hendren, R-Benton, to serve on his behalf.


House Majority Leader Ken Bragg, R-Sheridan, designated Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne, to serve on his behalf. House Minority Leader Eddie Armstrong, D-North Little Rock, designated Rep. Deborah Ferguson, D-West Memphis, to serve on his behalf.


Dismang and Gillam both named a mix of supporters and opponents of the private option to the panel, which is expected to hold an organizational meeting in a few days.


Other bills


The House voted 96-0 to approve HB 1274 by Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, which would allow the family of a firefighter who dies from cancer that is deemed to be the result of on-the-job exposure to carcinogens to collect a death benefit from the state of up to $150,000.


The bill also would create a review panel, with seven members appointed by the governor, to make recommendations to the state Claims Commission regarding appropriate benefits. The bill goes to the Senate.


The House voted 92-2 to approve SB 314 by Sen. David Burnett, D-Osceola, which would expand the Arkansas Racing Commission from a five-member panel to a seven-member panel. The bill goes to the governor.