LITTLE ROCK — A bill that would let colleges and universities decide whether to allow staff to carry a concealed handgun on campus passed in the House on Friday in a 70-11 vote.

House Bill 1243 by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, now heads to the Senate. Gov. Mike Beebe said Friday he likely will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

As the bill was originally written, it would have required public colleges and universities to allow faculty and staff members who have concealed-carry permits to carry guns on campus, but Collins amended the bill to allow institutions to decide in an annual vote whether to allow guns on campus.

"The fact that they have made it optional for colleges to say, ‘No, we don’t want them on campus makes its palatable, so I’m probably going to sign it," Beebe told reporters Friday.

While presenting his bill in the House, Collins said he believed it could save lives.

"We’ve got a serious problem in America," he said. "On our college campuses about every two months we have somewhere in the country a shooting incident, and our loved ones are the ones that are suffering. One of the things I think we can do to protect our loved ones is to move forward with this bill."

Collins said that after he amended the bill to include an opt-out provision, the state’s public two- and four-year colleges agreed not to oppose the measure.

Rep David Whitaker, D-Fayetteville, spoke against the bill, saying there would be no consistency between campuses and that permit holders would be "at sea" trying to figure out whether they are allowed to carry guns.

"I know for a lot of reasons that many of you cannot or do not feel comfortable with a ‘no’ vote on any sort of gun legislation," he said. "So what I will ask you to do on this bad little law is take a walk on this one. Get a cup of coffee, start your weekend early."

Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, spoke in support of the bill, saying it gives institutions a choice. He also urged members not to abstain.

"We’re elected to come here and make decisions," he said.

The House also voted 57-16 to approve HB 1280 by Rep. David Kizzia, D-Malvern, which would add gas grill lighters to a state law banning the sale of cigarette, cigar and pipe lighters shaped like objects that would appeal to children.

"They’re dangerous, they’re a nuisance item, they appeal to kids," Kizzia told House members.

Rep. John Payton, R-Wilburn, said he has a grill lighter shaped like a fishing pole and asked if it would be banned under the bill. Kizzia said it would.

The bill goes to the Senate.

Unusual House session

Friday’s House session was unusual in several respects, beginning with an overtly political prayer by the Rev. Allen Jackson, who thanked God for "tremendous victories" in the Legislature on abortion and guns. The prayer raised eyebrows among some House members.

The proceedings were disrupted briefly when freshman Rep. Mark McElroy, D-Tillar, asked to be allowed to address the House, then gave a rambling, incoherent speech before being escorted back to his seat. McElroy later applauded loudly while another member was speaking on a bill and then was escorted out of the chamber.

A doctor who was in attendance for the day met with McElroy outside the chamber, according to the House staff. McElroy did not return to the chamber Friday.

Committee endorsements

Elsewhere Friday, the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee endorsed HB 1187 by Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, which would prohibit a public servant or governmental body from spending public funds to support or oppose a ballot measure.

The proposal would not prohibit verbal expressions of views supporting or opposing ballot measures.

The bill goes to the House.

The committee also endorsed Senate Bill 215 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, which would prohibit a person from filing as a candidate for more than one municipal office at a time. The bill goes to the House.

The House City, County and Local Affairs Committee endorsed HB 1300 by Collins, which would amend a law that exempts the security plans and risk assessments of public water systems from the state Freedom of Information Act.

The current law expires on July 1. Collins’ bill would remove the sunset clause, making the exemption permanent.

The bill goes to the House.