LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Lawmakers said Tuesday that they want to hear from the head of a state board that voted to allow more than a dozen Arkansas school districts to continue using teachers, administrators and other staff as armed guards.
Ralph Sims, the chairman of the Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies, was supposed to join legislators for the joint House and Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Tuesday, but he didn't show up.
So the committee's chair, Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, said he expects Sims to be subpoenaed sometime this week.
Sims said he had a personal conflict on Tuesday, but that he would attend the next committee meeting if lawmakers want him there.
"I plan to attend the next meeting and answer any questions I can," Sims said.
That meeting will likely take place next month.
The Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies voted in September to allow 13 school districts to continue using teachers, administrators and other staff as armed guards, despite a warning from Arkansas' top attorney that the licensing law they relied upon was intended for private businesses.
After initially voting to revoke two districts' licenses classifying them as private security companies, the board decided to allow the schools to keep them for two more years. It said it wouldn't accept any new applications from school districts.
Board members said the two-year reprieve would give the Legislature a chance to look at ways schools could employ their own staffs as armed guards.
Though some lawmakers have said they're interested in changing state law to allow schools to arm employees, they would have to win a lot of support in order to tackle the issue before the 2015 legislative session. The Legislature convenes in February for a session devoted to the state's budget, and it takes a two-thirds vote in both chambers to consider any non-fiscal matters.
"I've not done a poll, but ... I think there's support to address it in some capacity in the fiscal session," said Hutchinson, R-Benton.
Hutchinson also said he wants to understand why the board chose to grandfather some of the schools.
"If the law allows for schools who had started at one point, why do we delineate some difference for schools who start up to a certain date?" Hutchinson asked. "It doesn't make any sense to me."
Without Sims on hand to address those concerns at Tuesday's committee meeting, lawmakers turned to a school district that trained about 20 teachers and staff to work as volunteer security guards carrying concealed handguns.
Jon Hodoway worked on that training in Clarksville, a 2,500-student district in western Arkansas.
"I think there's quite a bit of confusion out there and a little bit of frustration because we have school districts that desire means to effectively protect their children, and they don't understand why one day it's OK and the next day it is unconstitutional according to the attorney general," Hodoway told lawmakers.
In an advisory opinion in August, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said the licensing law was intended for private security companies. State law prohibits guns on campus, but an exception is included for licensed security guards.
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