Lawmakers to consider guns at college, spending cap


LITTLE ROCK — House committees on Tuesday are expected to consider legislation to authorize college personnel to carry a gun on campus and a bill that would cap growth in state government spending at 3 percent annually.

Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, said Monday he planned to present House Bill 1243, his bill concerning guns on campus, in the House Education Committee and to an offer amendment that he said would address concerns raised by college administrators.

As originally written, the bill would allow a staff member at a public college or university to carry a concealed handgun on campus if he or she has a concealed carry-permit. The same would be true for a staff member of a private college or university unless the institution chooses not to allow guns on campus.

Collins said his amendment would allow the board of trustees of public colleges and universities to decide in an annual vote whether to allow guns on campus. It also would allow the board to restrict concealed handguns to certain parts of campus.

“From talking to all of the (House Education Committee) members, I’m quite confident that with this amendment this bill is in very good shape (Tuesday),” he said.

Collins said he filed the bill in response to recent school shootings around the country.

“We’re seeing on college campuses in the United states about every two months shooting incidents, and I believe that one of the reasons for that is because they’re gun-free zones,” he said. “I believe we can deter a lot of these incidents nationwide by allowing concealed-carry holders to carry on a campus.”

Gov. Mike Beebe was noncommittal about the proposal Monday, saying he was interested in hearing from higher education officials.

“To a large extent I think we’re going to be visiting with presidents and chancellors and the board members of the various colleges to get their input before I make any public statements about it,” the governor told reporters. “You know proliferation of some of these guns in some places is often met by the folks who are in charge of those places … with a great deal of anxiety. So, I think we owe it to college and university folks to get their input before we make any comment.”

Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, said Monday he planned to present HB 1041 on Tuesday in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. Under the bill, expenditures from the state’s general treasury could not exceed 3 percent more than the previous fiscal year’s spending or the average gross domestic product for the preceding three fiscal years, whichever is smaller.

To date, much of lawmakers’ attention this session has been focused on issues such as abortion and guns. Westerman, the House majority leader, said issues such as spending, taxes and Medicaid should be “starting to take hold as we move forward this week.”

Beebe said Monday he was “absolutely not” supportive of Westerman’s bill.

“They’ve already got that authority. I don’t know where they come up with the idea that they’ve got to do something like that when they’ve already got the power to set the budget anyway,” the governor said.

Beebe said the state has not finished a fiscal year in the red in decades because of the Revenue Stabilization Act passed by each General Assembly to set annual priorities for state spending — and cuts when necessary.

The governor added that the RSA is well known nationally and that when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor of California “he said California ought to adopt Arkansas’ budget model because it’s the best in the country.”

“It is the best in the country. We don’t take credit for it, it started in the 40s … and it is a wonderful system and the Legislature is in charge, so they don’t need” a spending cap,” Beebe said.

He also said having a cap on spending “could get you in trouble in a lot of situations with regards to central services like prisons or (school funding) adequacy.”