It’s likely that the question of what to do about the vacancy left by former Lt. Gov. Mark Darr will be answered in a non-appropriation item during this Fiscal Session.
Darr announced that he was stepping down this month after lengthy calls for his resignation after he admitting to campaign finance violations.
Faulkner County’s legislators are in agreement that holding a special election, which could cost up to a few million dollars, doesn’t make sense when there is less than a year left in the term.
After the election process runs its course, Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) said, a special election "would put somebody in office for literally a matter of days."
Rapert said that he’d entertain the idea of simply doing without a Lt. Governor "unless there’s some other information that requires the vacancy to be filled."
The Legislature could also bring Act 746 back for review at the fiscal session, but any effort to do so would have to overcome the general reluctance against bringing up non-appropriation items for consideration during a fiscal session.
Rep. Steve Magie (D-Conway) said on Thursday that he’s heard talk of bringing clarity to Act 746 around the Capitol, but hasn’t heard of any plan to try to bring the issue up as a non-appropriation item during the fiscal session, which would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
A 2008 amendment to the Article V of the Arkansas Constitution requires the Legislature to hold fiscal sessions in even-numbered years. While a number of non-appropriation items have been introduced during fiscal sessions, "there’s always trepidation and uneasiness among legislators about bringing up other issues that would distract from the job the people gave us by giving us a fiscal session in the first place," Magie said.
Act 746 is claimed by many to allow the open carry of handguns by any Arkansan who can legally own them. However others, including the Arkansas State Police and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, have said that the language as amended by Act 746 doesn’t substantially change the law to allow "open carry."
It is also unclear what effect Act 746 has on the state’s concealed carry licensure system. Some people think it completely dismantles the legal framework of concealed carry in Arkansas and anyone who can legally own a gun may carry it concealed, while others think it has no effect and unlicensed concealed carry may be illegal while carrying openly is legal.
The law is being interpreted differently by different prosecutors and law enforcement officials as well. In Faulkner and some surrounding counties in the 20th Judicial District, Cody Hiland, district attorney, has said he won’t prosecute someone for merely carrying a weapon openly in light of Act 746. Benton County Sheriff Kelley Cradduck and Garland County Prosecutor Steve Oliver say that "open carry" is still illegal in their jurisdictions.
"There’s definitely talk about it, but so far there’s not anyone that I’ve seen talking about sponsoring a bill [to clarify the state’s "carrying a weapon" statute]," Magie said. "If it’s not addressed in the fiscal session, then I feel confident that it will be in the 2015 regular session."
Rep. Stephen Meeks (R-Greenbrier) was a sponsor of the bill, and said last week that while he hadn’t heard any talk around the Capitol about Act 746, he wouldn’t be surprised if someone tried to introduce a non-appropriation item to decide the open carry question.
"At some point that’s got to be clarified one way or the other," Meeks said.
Rep. Douglas House (R-North Little Rock), who recommended some of the amendment’s language but did not sponsor the bill, has said that he meant the amendment to protect hunters and other people travelling with handguns from having them confiscated or being arrested, and not necessarily to legalize "open carry." Sen Jason Rapert (R-Conway) said last month that he supports "open carry" and supports the result but didn’t think Altes’s amendment would legalize it when he voted for it. Last week he said that his only position on the amended law is that no weapon law had ever been proven to have stopped a criminal intent on getting the prohibited weapon to commit a crime.
Rep. Stephen Meeks (R-Greenbrier) was a sponsor of the bill, and said last week that while he hadn’t heard any talk around the Capitol about Act 746, he wouldn’t be surprised if someone tried to introduce a
The amendment to the state carrying a weapon statute was passed without discussion or substantial opposition in the House Judiciary Committee, House and Senate after it was explained to these bodies by its lead sponsor, Rep. Denny Altes (R-Fort Smith) to be "cleanup" language "recommended by the State Police." Altes has remained silent on the issue.
In a July 16 post to his Facebook.com page, Rep. Nate Bell (R-Mena) wrote, "It was the intent of the sponsors of Act 746 to decriminalize the open carry of a firearm by persons not prohibited by legally possessing the firearm."
Bell said in an email exchange on Saturday that he wrote the statement based on "my intent and the expressed intent of my colleagues who worked to pass the bill."
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)