LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe on Monday signed into law legislation authorizing places of worship to decide whether to allow guns inside and a measure barring the sale of insurance coverage for abortions through Arkansas’ health insurance exchange.
Beebe signed the measures without fanfare after both overwhelmingly won final approval in the Legislature last week.
Senate Bill 71 — now Act 67 of 2013 — by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, amends an Arkansas law barring guns in churches to allow houses of worship to decide individually whether to let someone with a concealed handgun permit carry a weapon on the premises. The legislation had an emergency clause and became effective immediately with the governor’s signature.
On Friday, Reps. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, and Darrin Williams, D-Little Rock, filed House Bill 1284 to address liability concerns raised by clergy during legislative hearings on the guns-in-church legislation.
Drafted with assistance from the governor’s office, HB1284 would shield churches from liability for damages resulting from gun play. It also would establish guidelines for who makes the decision whether to allow a person licensed to carry a concealed handgun to bring a weapon into the building.
It would require that a house of worship that allows an armed person in the building give public notice by posting signs at public entrances.
Beebe said Monday he was confident that lawmakers would adopt the measure, "unless they want to go against all those pastors and churches."
House Bill 1100 — now Act 72 — by Rep. Butch Wilkins, D-Bono, will prohibit insurers from offering coverage for elective abortions through the state’s health insurance exchange except through a separate rider on the policy with a separate premium which would have to be paid by the customer. The measure has no emergency clause, so it will go into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.
Beebe on Monday repeated questions he has about the constitutionality of other abortion-related bills moving through the Legislature, although he did not say directly whether he would sign them, allow them to become law without his signature or veto them if they reach his desk.
House Bill 1037 by Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, would ban abortions at 20 weeks — the point at which the bill contends a fetus can feel pain — except to save the mother from death or severe physical impairment. It contains no exception for rape or incest.
Senate Bill 134 by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, would require a woman seeking an abortion at 12 weeks or more into a pregnancy to undergo a test for a fetal heartbeat, and if a heartbeat is detected an abortion could not be performed unless the mother’s life is in danger or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
Both bills would ban abortions prior to the time doctors generally consider a fetus to be viable, at 23 or 24 weeks.
Mayberry’s bill has passed the House. Rapert’s bill has passed the Senate.
Beebe said Monday his office is still reviewing both. He note that Mayberry’s bill contains no exception for rape or incest.
"I don’t want to sign something if it’s unconstitutional," the governor said, adding that he sees Rapert’s so-called "human heartbeat bill" as "more suspect than the other one."