Associated Press Writers

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Senate voted Monday to prohibit local governments from restricting or confiscating firearms during a state of emergency, a move that backers say would protect gun owners’ rights during natural and man-made disasters.

The Senate voted 29-5 to approve the measure, which would bar cities and counties from enacting emergency laws "regulating the transfer, transportation, or carrying of firearms or components of firearms" after the governor declares a state of emergency. The proposal by Republican Bill Sample of Hot Springs would allow anyone who has their weapons seized to sue in circuit court to get them back.

"This just prevents city and county governments from violating your Second Amendment rights," Sample told the Senate.

Current law allows local governments to enact restrictions on guns during a state of emergency, if approved by at least a two-thirds vote of the governing body. The restrictions cannot last for more than 20 days.

Sample said he was prompted to introduce the legislation in response to guns that were confiscated by city officials in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, but said similar incidents have not occurred in Arkansas when emergencies have been declared by the governor. Opponents of the proposal said they were worried it went too far in restricting local governments’ rights.

"Just to outright prohibit it, I think, could be a little short-sighted because we don’t know the eventuality of what may happen down the road," said state Sen. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock, one of five Democrats who voted against the bill.

The Arkansas Municipal League has not taken a position on Sample’s proposal. Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, would sign the measure if it reaches his desk, his office said. The bill now heads to the House.

Later, the Senate approved legislation that would prevent franchise liquor stores from opening multiple outlets in Arkansas. The measure, which was approved on a 27-3 vote, now heads back to the House to concur with a Senate amendment.

The Senate also gave final approval to legislation would keep the state from paying attorney’s fees for private attorneys that indigent defendants hire on their own. 

The bill, which has already been approved by the House, would allow the state to pay other expenses for private attorneys if they met conditions set by the Public Defender Commission. The proposal wouldn’t bar the state from paying for private attorneys appointed to a case by a judge. 

The measure was in response to a state Supreme Court order for the state Public Defender Commission to pay the expenses for the private attorney representing Abdulhakim Muhammad, who’s on trial in the shooting death of a soldier outside a Little Rock recruiting center. The court said state law did allow the commission to pay for expenses of a privately retained attorney. The legislation now heads to the governor’s desk.

In the House, Rep. Fred Allen, D-Little Rock, won passage of a bill that would require new homes to be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors.

Allen said there were 13 deaths from carbon monoxide in Arkansas in 2008 and 19 deaths in 2009, which he said illustrates the need for the regulation. He said new mobile homes are required to have carbon monoxide detectors under federal regulations.

The bill passed on a vote of 52-39.

The House has delayed action on an Arkansas lottery bill so the agency won’t have to change its accounting software.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Barry Hyde, D-North Little Rock, said Monday the state finance department has cleared the lottery to use a separate accounting system from the rest of state government. 

An audit last fall criticized the lottery for not having joined the state accounting system. But Hyde says the Department of Finance and Administration decided that the lottery’s current system is a better fit. Hyde says his bill failed to make that change, so it has to be amended and that it will take a couple of days for it to return to the House floor.

"When we initially go the audit report last fall, we brought up a requirement to force (the)lottery to begin using AASIS, the (state) accounting system, and it wasn’t two weeks into that that ... DF&A approached me and said, ‘Hey that’s a bad idea. AASIS is not a good fit for that agency. The Peachtree that they’re using is fine,"’ Hyde said. "It’s just a matter of they didn’t have it up and operating as quickly as they needed to and that’s what caused them a few problems."

Hyde said he thought the accounting system change had been removed from the bill, but it hadn’t. 

"Let’s get the thing fixed before we run it," Hyde said.

Hyde said the bill could be before the House again by Wednesday.