In the last moments of the 2021 Arkansas General Legislative Session, which ended early Tuesday after 1 a.m., the legislature managed to pass a bill that bans police from enforcing some federal gun laws, but addresses problems previously brought up on a similar bill that was vetoed by the governor.
House Bill 1957, filed late Monday night, made its way through the legislature in fewer than 28 hours through a series of committee meetings, recesses and votes.
The legislation would ban all state and local law enforcement officers from enforcing any federal gun laws that conflict with the right to bear arms as outlined in both the U.S. and Arkansas Constitution. Those include any laws requiring registration, tracking or banning possession of firearms. The bill is nearly identical to Senate Bill 298, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed on Friday.
However, in presenting the bill to the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee, Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Hermitage, said the exceptions and changes added in this bill address the issues Hutchinson and law enforcement officials brought up.
"We went through Senate bill 298 and we tried to include all the language that was possible that did not interfere with the Game and Fish funding. It did not interfere with the cases that were being tried at the moment prior to January 1 and basically this is the sausage that came out of that factory."
Wardlaw also told the committee that Hutchinson has said while he still considers this new bill extreme, he would not veto it. After the committee passed the bill, it then went to the House, where members voted 74-19 to advance it in the Senate.
A separate attempt to override Hutchinson’s veto of Senate Bill 298, which the Senate began on Monday, ultimately did not come to fruition after the House tabled the motion to override the veto and did not bring it up again.
Later Tuesday, the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee held an unscheduled meeting to hear House Bill 1957.
Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, was the lone member of the committee to vote against the bill. She said the duty to decide which laws are unconstitutional should lie with the courts, not law enforcement.
"Generally you would know what the law is that law enforcement is enforcing. And it appears to me that they have to make the decision as to laws, what laws conflict," Flowers said. "They’re police officers, they’re carrying out the… law that the legislature puts in place. They’re not out on the street to make the law."
An amendment to the bill was also added on the Senate side while in committee. Both chambers then recessed until 12:01 a.m. to vote on the bill again.
The Senate voted 26-6, with one voting present to pass the bill Wednesday morning. After going through a House committee again due to an added amendment, the House voted 79-20 to pass the bill and send it to the Governor.