WASHINGTON — Gov. Mike Beebe called out Lt. Gov. Mark Darr on Saturday for having signed into law a bill that would block public disclosure of concealed weapons permit holders.
"I thought it was very inappropriate," Beebe said during a break at the National Governors Association winter meeting.
Beebe, a Democrat, said he was surprised by the bill signing since neither the Republican lieutenant governor nor his predecessor, Democrat Bill Halter, had previously done so while Beebe was out of state.
Asked jokingly why he didn’t hide the bill before leaving Arkansas, Beebe answered straightforwardly: "I didn’t hide it because I didn’t think he’d try to do that. Since I’ve been governor no lieutenant governor has tried to sign a bill when I’ve been out of state."
Beebe recalled that two decades earlier an acting governor had sparked outrage by using the powers of the office while the governor was away.
"We had a lieutenant governor that did stuff like that in the past and we changed the law to stop that kind of stuff from happening."
Former Gov. Jim Guy Tucker left Arkansas to attend President Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993. During that four-day trip, then Sen. Jerry Jewell was acting governor. Since there was no lieutenant governor at the time, Jewell was next in line as president pro temp of the Arkansas Senate.
Jewell pardoned two convicts, including Tommy McIntosh, the son of Robert "Say" McIntosh, a restaurant owner and activist in Little Rock. The son had been sentenced to 50 years in prison in 1987 on a drug conviction.
Beebe said that the bill signing Friday had no real impact outside of a breach in decorum.
"Now, it didn’t hurt anything. It was such a hot issue for the Legislature and had overwhelming support so I wasn’t going to fall on my sword on that, but I wasn’t going to sign it. I would have let it become law and let folks know that I wouldn’t have voted for it," Beebe said.
Darr said Friday in a news release that he felt there was an immediate need to sign the bill.
"Within the bill is an emergency clause which states that once this bill is signed the state of Arkansas can no longer publicly release records concerning persons licensed to carry a concealed handgun or those applying for such a license," Darr stated. "The release of such records is an invasion of privacy and threatens the safety and property of the persons identified."
Beebe was to return to Arkansas Monday afternoon and planned to brief Republican legislative leaders on details about his Friday meeting with federal Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Medicaid expansion.
He was not specific Saturday on what she had to say about the concerns Arkansas Republicans have raised.
"What I can say is that I am cautiously optimistic," Beebe said. "The secretary is willing to be flexible."
Arkansas is deciding whether to expand Medicaid to include people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level under the federal Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare. Beebe favors expansion. Republican lawmakers have been cool to the idea.