LITTLE ROCK — Bills to bar cities and counties from passing anti-discrimination laws and allow public schools to arm teachers and staff received approval Monday in the Arkansas Senate.

LITTLE ROCK — Bills to bar cities and counties from passing anti-discrimination laws and allow public schools to arm teachers and staff received approval Monday in the Arkansas Senate.


The Senate also gave final passage to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s proposal to end the Medicaid expansion program known as the private option at the end of 2016 and create a task force to look for an alternative approach to health care reform.


Senators voted 24-8 to approve Senate Bill 202 by Rep. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, which would bar cities and counties from prohibiting discrimination on any basis not in state law. The bill goes to the House.


Presenting his bill on the Senate floor, Hester said it would stop cities and counties from passing ordinances like one the Fayetteville City Council adopted last summer that included prohibitions against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment and public services.


Fayetteville voters repealed the ordinance in December, but Hester said the possibility still exists for the passage of similar measures.


"When businesses are looking to expand or locate in Arkansas, if you have things as important and vital as civil rights that are different in every city that they’re going to look to locate in, I think it can prove an unbearable encumbrance upon business," he said.


Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, and Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, spoke against the bill.


"If Washington passed something like this and passed it down to this state, we would scream about federal overreach," said Ingram, a former mayor of West Memphis.


Chesterfield said the bill was "bad for business" and "bad for home rule." She said Arkansas would better attract new businesses if it were seen as "an open and welcoming state."


Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Benton, spoke in support of the bill.


"If we do not do something, we could have a mishmash of laws conflicting all over the state," said Hutchinson, a lawyer and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.


Hutchinson said Monday when asked about the bill, "The Fayetteville ordinance is not something I would have supported. I would have voted against that if I’d been a resident of Fayetteville. But there is something to be said about local control. I’m going to wait to see how the legislative process develops."


The Senate voted 33-1 to approve SB 164 by Jeremy Hutchinson, which would give the Arkansas State Police authority to train and license public school teachers and staff to serve as armed school security officers.


The bill also would abolish the state Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies and give all of the board’s powers to the Arkansas State Police. The bill goes to the House.


In past years, the board has allowed a few school districts to arm teachers and staff, but in August 2013, then-Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in an advisory opinion that the board lacked legal authority to do so.


The board voted in September 2013 to stop allowing new school districts to arm employees but said districts already using employees as armed security guards could continue the practice for two years.


"This is not an ideal situation," Hutchinson told senators. "I’d prefer that every school have a school resource officer and not have to rely on a private security force. However, in many schools, that’s not an option. They can’t afford it."


Hutchinson also said that in some school districts the average response time for the sheriff’s office is 40 minutes, which he said is "unacceptable when there’s an active shooter in a school environment."


Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, caset the only "no" vote.


"I had a constituent that has a large security company that had some concerns about it. He felt like abolishing the board may not be the best solution," Files said later.


The Senate voted 26-5 to approve SB 96 by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, which contains the governor’s plan to end the private option on Dec. 31, 2016, and create a task force to look for a new model that could replace that program and make other health care reforms.


The Senate previously approved the bill in a 27-7 vote but voted Monday to approve it with a House amendment that added co-sponsors. The bill goes to the governor.


Senators voted 34-0 to approve House Bill 1012 by Rep. Rebecca Petty, R-Rogers, which would ensure that up to six close relatives of a victim are allowed to view an execution and that up to 12 additional close relatives can view the execution via closed-circuit television. The bill passed previously in the House and now goes back to the House for concurrence in a Senate amendment.


The House on Monday voted 93-5 to approve House Concurrent Resolution 1004, which calls for the regular business of the session to end April 10 and for formal adjournment to occur May 8. The resolution goes to the Senate.


House members voted 95-0 to approve HB 1190 by Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, which would allow a current or former member of the military who is between the ages of 18 and 21 to obtain a permit to carry a concealed handgun. Currently, concealed-carry permits are not issued to people under 21. The bill goes to the Senate.


The House voted 97-0 to approve HB 1224 by Rep. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith, under which the three Fort Smith district judges would jointly appoint one district court clerk. Currently, each judge appoints one clerk. The bill goes to the Senate.


Also Monday, advocates for the disabled and the elderly held a rally at the capitol to urge lawmakers to adopt the Community First Choice Option, a part of the federal Affordable Care Act that would increase federal Medicaid matching funds for community-based services for the disabled and elderly and allow the state to provide such services to about 3,000 people who are now on a waiting list.


Rep. Josh Miller, R-Heber Springs, who uses a wheelchair because of an accident, attended the rally. He told reporters that although he does not support most of the Affordable Care Act, "this is a good part of that."


The governor said Monday when asked about his position on the option, "I think there should be various options for the care of our elderly and disabled population, but we want to look at the cost impacts and what’s the right thing to do, so that’s still under review."