House Judiciary Committee
Jan. 17, 2023
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- Chief Justice Kemp introduction
- Attorney General Tim Griffin introduction
- HB 1008: Concealed carry and arrest powers for fire department bomb squads
Rep Dalby: Good morning. House Judiciary will come to order. The chair sees a quorum. Welcome back, members. It’s good to see everyone here. Hope you had a wonderful weekend and ready to get to work. We have a couple of special guests this morning. I think our committee is unique in that we get to work directly with some of the branches of government and the head officers of those entities and we’re very delighted this morning that both of them accepted our invitation to come to House Judiciary and we look forward to them. At this particular time, I would like to recognize our chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court, Chief Justice Dan Kemp. So Chief Justice, you’re more than welcome to come to the end of the table and you’ll be recognized. And those of us who are lawyers, that’s a great thing to be able to tell the chief justice he has to wait and speak when we tell him to speak, so. [laughter] We do welcome you, Chief Justice. We appreciate your time out of your busy schedule and the court’s busy schedule. And we welcome Marty Sullivan, who is the director of the Administrative Office of Courts. I think most returning members know Marty pretty well. But at this time, Chief Justice, we’ll turn the microphone over to you. Thank you. And thank you for being here.
Chief Justice Kemp introduction
Justice Kemp: Yeah, thank you. I appreciate the invitation from the chair. Representative Dalby, thank you. Representative Berry, appreciate this invitation to come before the committee. Excuse me for my voice. I think the weather change has kind of gotten to me here, but I’ll try to manage with me and hopefully, you can hear what I’ve got to say. And in serving as chief justice, I’ve had the opportunity to serve at different levels of our judicial branch. Started in the municipal courts. Served nine and a half years there, which is now the district courts. That’s a court of limited jurisdiction, primarily traffic cases, misdemeanors, small claims. And then served 30 years on the circuit court bench as a circuit judge, and that’s the court of general jurisdiction where you have a right to a jury trial. We have jurisdiction there over five subject areas: criminal, civil, juvenile, probate, and domestic relations. And then most recently had the opportunity to serve as chief justice now for six years on the appellate level. And of course on that level you hear the appeals primarily from circuit court, but also from other agencies and entities. But I think in serving on those three levels, it’s given me a unique opportunity to have a greater appreciation for our court system and what we can do for the bettering of that court system. During the latter 12 years that I served as a circuit judge, I was involved in the drug court program, served as a drug court judge. And this has been a very beneficial program for the communities to keep people out of prison that are nonviolent but do have drug problems or problems that need to be addressed in the communities. And I’m chair of the specialty court program advisory committee. We’re looking at possible expansion of our specialty courts with some possible maybe domestic relations type courts, domestic violence and that nature. So we’re kind of looking at what other states are doing. And before we propose anything we have the committee to look at that and see what’s going to be best for Arkansas.
Justice Kemp: As you notice, if you look across the road here, we’re having some construction done on the Justice Building to expand it, expand in the north and south wings. We’re adding additional space so that we can have all of our IT people in one location rather than spread in a couple of locations throughout the city. And just last month, we received $20 million to use in updating our case management system. This is something that’s long overdue, but it’s going to be, I think, a great benefit, not only for the judicial branch, but also with the other branches of government in modernizing case management and the more quickly receive information in traffic stops for officer safety. I think it’d be used for that too. So we’re excited about that. Hopefully, we’re going to build that ourselves and use IT people by contract to do that and hopefully have that completed, I’d like to see it in two years. I don’t know if we’re going to do it that quick, but we’re going to push for that. But just wanted to– and also on the other wing, we’re going to have a civic education center primarily for the Judiciary, but also to be for the other branches, legislative and the executive branches as well. We’ll have a safer location to offload students from school buses just right here between the Capitol and the Justice Building, which I think would be a lot safer than putting them off in the front of the Capitol or some other location. So we’re looking forward to that. We’ll also have more meeting space for our judicial meetings in the lower level in the basement level, whereas now we may have to get a hotel conference room. This will allow us to have those meetings in the justice building rather than there. So we’ve got some exciting things going on.
Justice Kemp: I would suggest and invite you if you want to see any court in operation, district court or a circuit court, feel free to contact Marty, and he can arrange an opportunity for you to visit with that court and observe them and then visit with the judge or the judges and maybe answer any questions that you may have about how our court system operates. So we’d be glad to respond to you in that way so that we can try to answer any questions, maybe not about a particular case, but in general about how the system operates and how our court system works. And of course, we want to invite you over once we complete the building for kind of a soft opening before we actually have our grand opening so that you can see what we’ve done and what we’re doing and what our plans are. Let me give Marty an opportunity to here to make some comments at this time.
Sullivan (Courts): Happy to be here, Chairman Dalby. Thanks for inviting us. I think I’ve met most of the committee and had interactions with all of you. I’m a seventh-generation Arkansan. I think it’s one of the greatest honors of probably my life to have been able to work at the AOC for the last 20 years. I came there as an intern and never left. I kind of moved up within the organization and literally from picking up trash in the parking lot and then in the hallway to being a mid-manager, now having keys of the Supreme Court. It’s humbling to say the least. What we’ve been able to accomplish over the last six years is fairly significant. My wife is a lawyer, so I hear the concerns about CourtConnect and our technology and the password resets and others things. So we’re working to fix all of those. We appreciate the ARPA money that was given us to help rebuild our case management system. I think this is really revolutionary. We’re one of five or six states that are doing that. We’re moving from a vendor-based system to a system that we own and control. I think it’s really– I remember the book Reinventing Government and reading that in college, and this is really something that we’re doing now and taking to heart. I think the AOC is probably one of the best public service organizations in the state that most people don’t know about. We provide all support to every judge and court staff throughout the state. So we really fly under the radar unless you’re in the judicial branch.
Sullivan (Courts): I brought Ms. Brown some maps because I was thinking if I were you all what would be beneficial, and so these are the updated as of last week circuit and district maps. So I know many of you may not be familiar with the court community. So that lists every circuit and it lists which judge is in your circuit. So if you don’t know those individuals, you’ll probably be busy the next four months, but maybe this summer, if you want to go visit your courts, I would encourage you to do that, especially the district courts. The district courts are basically traffic courts. So those are the ones that everyone’s going to have an interaction with at some point. I think it’s remarkable that the state of Arkansas, we process over 1.2 million cases a year. That’s more than all the federal courts combined. So our caseload is very significant. And you being leaders in the legislature, I would encourage you to get to know your judges and just go visit them and go see kind of the problems that they’re dealing with and really the innovative things that they’re doing. Chief mentioned the specialty courts. Those are really phenomenal to see individuals that go in that are suffering from addiction, and once they come out of those programs, they’re functioning members of society. That’s one of the most rewarding things that I get to do is go to the drug court graduation. So I would encourage you to do those in your community as well.
Sullivan (Courts): I think all of you have my cell phone number. I don’t want to give it out because we’re broadcasting. But if you need anything, I know Representative Dalby knows how to get in touch with me. If it’s okay, I would like to introduce the key staff for the Administrative Office of the Courts. There’s four divisions within the AOC. One of them is the legal division. That is headed by Kristin Clark. Kristin Clark is a former district judge, really proud to have her on staff. And then Brooke Steen is the head of the juvenile division. And she’ll introduce a few of her staff as well. But there’s legal, juvenile, the technology division, and administration. Those two are back literally building the case management system right now. So I told them to keep working. But if you need anything, call me 24/7. I pride myself on being super responsive and I mean that. So I appreciate your service to the state and call me if you need anything.
Rep Dalby: Thank you. Kristin?
Clark (Courts): Well, I’m Kristin Clark. I’m the director of the legal services division at the Administrative Office of the Courts. I grew up in Pope County. And I see we’ve got two of our representatives here. I live in White County currently and I’m married to a man in Craighead County, and then we’ve got to another place in Sharp County, so I’m all over the place. And of course, work here. But if we can be a resource to you, if we can answer any questions or be helpful, then please feel free to call on us anytime. Like Marty said, we pride ourselves on being very responsive to the public and to you all as well. I’d like to take just a second to introduce three of the staff attorneys that we have here in the legal division. One is Krystal Mann. Krystal, if you’d stand up. She is primarily responsible for questions related to civil matters or criminal matters. We have Laura Calhoun. Laura is primarily responsible for questions related to domestic relations or probate matters. And then we also have Ben Barnum. And Ben is primarily responsible for district court-related questions.
Steen (Courts): Hi, I’m Brooke Steen. I’m the director of the juvenile division at the Administrative Office of the Courts. I grew up in Faulkner County and live here in Pulaski County now with my family. I graduated law school with Representative Gazaway down there. I was in private practice for 11 years and then was a staff attorney at the AOC for 5 years before taking on this role. We will assist you with any questions you have regarding dependency neglect cases, juvenile delinquency cases or FINS, family in need of services, questions. So if you have any kind of questions on any of those cases, just let us know. I won’t repeat what they said, but we are available whenever you need us. And happy to share my cell number. We also have a staff attorney in the juvenile division. Kurt? This is Kurt Meredith. He is also available should you have any questions about juvenile cases. Thank you all so much.
Rep Dalby: Thank you. Thank you for being here. Chief, is that everybody? Do you have anything else you’d like to add to it? We would appreciate it.
Justice Kemp: I just want to say again, thank you for this opportunity to be here before the committee. And I intend to start up coffee with the chief on Wednesday mornings and invite everyone to drop by. It’s informal. Don’t have any agenda, just to get to know each other a little bit better. I did this two sessions ago. We weren’t able to do it the last session because of COVID, but hopefully, reinstitute this, but if you get the opportunity to come by, we plan to have it on Wednesday morning early before you start your committee meeting. So get the opportunity to drop by and have a coffee and get to know each other a little bit better. Thank you.
Rep Dalby: Thank you, Chief. Thank you so much. And thank you staff members of the court for being here. We appreciate it. We look forward to working with you this session. And feel free to leave if you’ve got other things. I know Marty probably has a lot. Thank you so much, Chief. Members, next it’s our honor to have our attorney general, Tim Griffin, here in our committee meeting this morning. We extended the invitation to his office. He graciously accepted. And so, Attorney General Griffin, we’re looking forward to hearing from you and your staff and your plans. Thank you.
Attorney General Tim Griffin introduction
AG Griffin: Thank you. Anytime you ask me, I will be here, every time. It’s an honor to be here. I’ve never served on this committee. I have served on the Judiciary Committee in the Congress and I certainly understand and respect the role that you all play. I want to thank you, Chair and Vice Chair, for having me. First want to say, most of you already have my cell phone number. It’s on the internet, but let me give it to you again. I don’t want anyone ever saying that they can’t get the answer they need, they can’t get the information they need, they can’t get a meeting. You’re not going to have that problem. But if you do, just call me or text me directly, and we will get it working. 501-837-XXX, 837-XXXX. I understand the role that you all play, respect it greatly. You have an oversight role, also a funding role. Without you, we couldn’t function. And I appreciate all of that.
Reference to previous handling of AG Office
I could talk a lot longer than I’ve got because there’s a lot to talk about, but let me just mention a few things. First of all, we’re going to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. We are reviewing all of spending currently and we’re going to do everything we can to spend taxpayer dollars wisely. And we can talk more about that later after my review. That includes public service announcements. We are going to be very, very careful with that money and spend it sparingly. Also, I know that some legislators have been frustrated with the results of what happens with Leg Audit reports or what doesn’t happen with Leg Audit reports, that they get issued, then sometimes no action is taken outside these walls. And I am working very, very closely with prosecutors on that. And we are going to– I think we’ve got a way of cooperatively, without any new laws, getting that fixed. Currently, the law allows for the AG to address, pursue that potential misconduct if a prosecutor decides that they’re not going to do it. And so we are working cooperatively. I’ve already met with Will Clark, the new prosecutor here in Pulaski County, and I think one change is we’re going to try to get, just get my office cc’d on the reports when they go to prosecutors because we don’t know. We don’t know that they’re going. And if we get one at the same time, then we’ll be able to pick up the phone and have a conversation with that prosecutor and see who has the best resources or whatever to get that done. I think there are some folks looking at maybe introducing some legislation on that that would just get us cc’d on the report. A very, very small change there, but I’ve heard from some of you all on Leg Audit and I want to mention that.
AG Griffin: Fentanyl, I know that representative Berry has a bill on that. I’ve got some ideas on that and working with the prosecutors on a bill and Representative Gazaway on that. And be happy to talk more about that later. I will say, Representative Gazaway, I assume all y’all like him. He told me y’all do. He told me that he was the best one to work with on the committee. [laughter]
Rep Dalby: Now, remember, he’s an attorney, so we do have to watch that.
AG Griffin: Oh, he’s hard to dislike. He’s been a good friend and partner over the last– there’s a lot of laughter here– over the last 6 months or a year, so I generally run things by him to make sure y’all at least in his instance are in the loop. I will say there’s some mention of drug courts. I’ve spoken at those graduations. I’m in the process of scheduling another one. It’s a really good program where we have them, and it is helping a lot of people who don’t need to be in our state prisons, which are already busting at the seams. I don’t think I heard from representatives, but from some senators, some frustrations with phone numbers. So if you go to the AG website and call those numbers, you get voicemail. And that’s my understanding. I didn’t dial all the numbers, but I had someone dial them. Anyway, we are addressing that. I think some of that was a technological issue. But I’ve asked for a list of every number that goes into our office and what happens when you call. And we’re working with DIS on getting all that fixed. So I would just ask that you give me a few more days, and we’ll figure all that out. But of course, you have my cell phone, so. But we want to make sure that all that stuff is working. And I’ve assured the senator who raised that with me that we’re addressing that. So I have a rockstar that’s going to be living over here at the Capitol, Alex Benton. I don’t know if y’all know Alex. She’s just been outstanding even in the short time that we’ve worked together. She worked on Boards and Commissions before. Would you stand up, Alex? This is Alex Benton. She’s our Assistant Attorney General and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. So she’s handling all government relations, federal government, state government, with the legislature, counties, cities. She’s great, and we’re helping. We’ve got her some help. But her cell phone, I know we’re public, but people, I’m going to give it to you anyway, 5O1-8O4-xxxx.
AG Griffin: I’ve been online. I know there aren’t a lot of people that– we don’t have 1,000 people watching me. I assure you, there may be two. And they’ve already got the numbers. So Ryan Cooper, longtime Prosecuting Attorney, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, and stand up, would you, Ryan? Ryan’s Senior Assistant Attorney General, the Special Prosecutions Division, 870-378-xxxx, and Adam Jackson, Assistant AG, Criminal Division, 870-838-xxxx. Welcome to my cell phone world, guys. Anyway, just excited to be here. We got a lot of stuff going on. I’ll come over and hang out with y’all when you let me. But please just know that we respect you and what you do, and we want to be helpful. We want 100% cooperation. If there’s any time that something looks as if something was not done right, just assume it wasn’t intentional. And I think we show a little grace to each other. I think things work better. So just call me, and we’ll fix it, whatever it is, I promise you. Subject to your questions.
Rep Dalby: Thank you, Mr. AG. Any questions? We see none. Members, Barbara will send those cell phone numbers out, so if you didn’t get them because the attorney general talks fast and you have to write fast. We do appreciate it very much for taking out of your busy time to come over here. We appreciate it. It gives our members an opportunity to put some faces and names together with folks who will be here often. Members, I urge you to reach out to the Attorney General’s Office. I’ve always known him, our Attorney General, to be very responsive, and I would fully expect that he expects his staff to be responsive. So we welcome that, and also members, in regard to the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice means it. Call Marty Sullivan. They can get you to the right people. We thank you for your time. Thank you for being here.
Criminal justice reform
AG Griffin: Thank you. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention something that’s pending and nothing really to announce now. But of course, I’m working with the Governor and legislators on criminal justice reform, parole, prisons, et cetera. But there will be more on that later. Thank you.
Rep Dalby: Thank you. All right, members, we’re now going to turn to our agenda. I see some legislators in the room. The only bill that we’re going to hear today is going to be House Bill 1018. House Bill 1018 will be the only bill that we’re going to hear today and with that, I’m going to recognize Representative Meeks to come to the table. Representative Meeks, you can introduce your individual that has with you. And then you’re recognized to present House Bill 1018.
HB 1008: Concealed carry and arrest powers for fire department bomb squads
Rep Meeks: Thank you, Madam Chair, colleagues. It’s an honor to be able to present to you your very first bill of the session, and I’m glad that this is going to be a public safety bill that I hope you all can help support me on. With me this morning is Todd Cardin. I’ve known Mr. Cardin since our high school years. So it’s been quite a few years now. He’s on the Conway Bomb Squad, and he’s the one who brought this concern to me. So I’m going to let him introduce himself, and then we’ve also brought several other folks with us to help answer your questions and to be in support of the bill. So, Mr. Cardin, I’ll let you introduce yourself, introduce the other guests that are in the room here with us. And then we’ll proceed to talk about the bill and what we’re hoping to accomplish with it.
Rep Dalby: Hang on, just one moment. I’m going to ask if you’ll get them to quiet down so we can all hear. All right. You’re recognized.
Cardin: Thank you, ma’am. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to thank you for being here. Thank you for allowing me to be here. Thank you, Representative Meeks. In the audience, I have James Dawson. He’s the SAC for the Little Rock Field Office FBI. I have J.T. Coleman. He is our Special Agent Bomb Tech for the Little Rock FBI. I have my Chief Winter, Mike Winter. He is here, I know. Conway Fire Department, he is a former bomb tech, public safety bomb tech. I have Skip Matthews. He’s the Fort Smith Bomb Squad Commander of the Fort Smith Fire Department. And I have Jason Weaver of the Little Rock Fire Department. He’s the Bomb Squad Commander in bomb tech for that entity.
Rep Meeks: All right. Thank you. Thank you, gentlemen, for being here. So what we’re hoping to do with this bill is, under current Arkansas law, the bomb squads and there’s two in the state?
Rep Meeks: Three in the state. So there’s currently three bomb squads within the state. And under current Arkansas law, they are allowed to carry weapons to be able to defend themselves when they go into buildings and other areas to conduct searches. And they’re only allowed to do so under the authority of the local sheriff. And the concern is, is that you might have a situation where the local sheriff doesn’t want to carry that liability for various reasons. And what that does is that leaves are heroes’ heroes, the guys that are going into these buildings when everybody else is evacuating, going into these situations unarmed, where a perpetrator may be still in the building, not able to defend themselves, and even more importantly, not having the means to be able to detain that perpetrator or to be able to stop them if they’re in the midst of doing something nefarious. So what we’re asking under this proposed legislation is the bomb squad technicians who have been properly trained according to law enforcement standards, who have no black marks against them, so these are going to be guys who know what they’re doing, have the proper training, that on their own cognition, they will be able to carry as they go into these situations to be able to protect themselves. If a perpetrator is in the building, they will have the ability to affect an arrest of that perpetrator and hold them until the police are able to come over and take over. As it is right now, they don’t have the ability. And so if they run into a perpetrator in the building, they have no means to detain or stop that person. And so what this does is it allows these guys to be able to protect themselves, and by doing so, it also allows them to protect the public and to also protect potentially millions of dollars in property damage that could result from one of these devices going off. So with that, I don’t know if Mr. Cardin has anything else to add, but if not, we will be open to questions from the committee.
Rep Dalby: Members, any questions? Representative Richardson, you’re recognized for a question.
Rep Richardson: Thank you, Madam Chair. So to date, how often has this happened where these individuals needed firearm or protection or were in a position where they could make an arrest?
Cardin: I can speak for Conway. We run on, surprisingly, 35 to 60 calls a year, suspicious packages, improvised explosive devices. I’ve been a bomb tech for 18 years. I have come into situations– We don’t just respond to Faulkner County. We respond statewide when called. We get in some remote places, and sometimes it’s often just us and a deputy there. I’ve looked around before and been concerned, that what if something happens to the deputy? I’m not there to protect myself or the deputy. Skip Matthews has a story that he would probably be glad to share with this committee if y’all allowed that pretty much started this ball rolling for us to come under, I don’t want to say our own authority, but put the liability on the fire departments and give us the ability to carry. Right now we fall under Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office. We have a great relationship with Sheriff Ryals. There’s no issues. We fell under them in ‘O7, has been no issues with them. Skip currently cannot carry under his county sheriff. They don’t have that relationship. This puts it back and allows him to carry and protect himself on these calls. Now, I don’t know if that answered your complete question or not.
Rep Richardson: Not exactly. I guess I was trying to see– you said there was one specific example, I guess. But in the 18 years you’ve been there, I know you said you’ve been in some not unfriendly, but some worrisome positions, but have you yourself come in contact with somebody as you’ve gone into any of these situations over the 18 year period?
Cardin: Myself, personally? Yes.
Rep Richardson: Okay.
Cardin: Yes. I have another bomb tech that was with an ATF agent just the other day. Last year– I don’t know the date, October, November– they was on a suspect. Everyone had left. ATF come in and was cleaning up, searching for evidence and other things. They had found a whiskey flask that had black powder in it and a fuse, improvised explosive device. And the owner pulled up and had a weapon on him. My bomb tech was not armed at the time. If things had went south, we’d been here for a whole different reason, sir.
Rep Dalby: Representing Clowney, you’re recognized for a question.
Rep Clowney: Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you so much for coming today. And I’ve got some questions, but before I ask them, I do just want to say, I really appreciate the work that y’all do, and I understand your desire to want to keep yourself safe. I’m just kind of trying to figure out some of the nuts and bolts.
Cardin: I understand.
Rep Clowney: So you mentioned that sheriff’s departments may historically have been a little bit hesitant because of liability issues. Can you explain to me exactly what this bill does with respect to liability?
Cardin: I think it puts the liability back on where it belongs, to the fire departments, individual fire departments. We’ve all been through– as I stated, Skip is not able to carry. I can carry because I went through the part-time deputies class. Little Rock, they require their techs to go through the full certified law enforcement.
Rep Clowney: Follow up?
Rep Dalby: You’re recognized for a follow-up.
Rep Meeks: And if it’s okay with the Chair, maybe Skip, why don’t you maybe come up and join us here at the table, and you may be able to help answer some of these questions. We’ll just let you have that seat there, and you can pull the microphone up and re-introduce yourself, and then maybe you can help answer.
Rep Dalby: If you’ll push your button, and when it turns green, then you’re recognized to introduce yourself. And then if Representative Clowney would like to repeat her question for the gentleman, then he can respond.
Mathews: Okay, I’m Skip Mathews with the Fort Smith Fire Department Bomb Squad. Like Todd, I’ve been a bomb tech 18 going on 20 years now. You want to repeat your question and maybe?
Rep Clowney: Sure, and maybe I’ll just kind of give you the overarching reason why I’m asking is I think when we talk about liability, we also have to consider qualified immunity, and will firefighters who are put in this position be subject to the protections of qualified immunity if something were to happen.
Mathews: Yes. To answer that, we continue our training. It’s just not a one-and-done deal with once you get certified. We continue our training. For example, I currently can’t carry right now. I have been through the training, but I still have an issued firearm, but we don’t carry it, but I continue to qualify two or three times a year to maintain that training also. And then it’s not like we’re just going through the course and “Hey, you’re certified.” But we have to continually train. And we do this. Does that answer your question? And that’s to maintain that liability, and that puts a lot of back on. We’ll have our own SOGs in place to protect for our liabilities and stuff like that.
Rep Dalby: Okay. Do you need a follow-up?
Rep Clowney: I think I’m all right. Thank you.
Rep Dalby: Okay. Representative Collins, you’re recognized for a question.
Rep Collins: Thank you, Madam Chair. So I’m just trying to understand it at a basic level. So bomb techs can carry now if the sheriff allows, but you’re saying that we would decide as a legislature that they can regardless, partly because of the shifting of liability. That’s one thing. The other thing I’m trying to figure out is, is the only reason that a sheriff would not allow a bomb tech to carry the liability, and by taking this liability off them, is this something that sheriffs, therefore, support? I mean, have we talked with them?
Cardin: Thank you. I have spoken with Sheriff Ryals actually this morning. I’ve spoken with him before, but I talked to him this morning, and he’s in full support of this. I did not go before the Sheriff’s Association. But he had no issues with it. And I can only speak for Sheriff Ryals, Faulkner County Sheriff, so.
Rep Dalby: Representing Meeks, have you had anybody from the sheriffs reach out and oppose this bill or anything?
Rep Meeks: No. No. I’ve heard of no opposition to this bill.
Rep Dalby: Representative Collins, are you finished? Representative Scott, you’re recognized for a question.
Rep Scott: Thank you, Madam Chair. Quick question. Follow up with, is it, Mr.–
Rep Scott: Yes, Matthews.
Rep Scott: So I have two questions. One of them was about the training. So did you say that y’all consistently do the training as far as the concealed carry?
Mathews: Yeah. We go through qualification. We have to qualify twice a year. Right now, we qualified with the PD department, the fire department– I mean, the police department. I’m sorry.
Rep Scott: Okay. So I was wondering if there was an appropriate [crosstalk]–
Mathews: That’s to maintain that record that we’re still qualifying.
Rep Scott: Okay. And my other question is, is the Municipal League in support of this? Because I’ve talked to a couple police officers who said they thought this might create more issues for them, and so I was just wondering if that’s something.
Rep Meeks: I have not heard anything from Municipal League.
Rep Scott: Okay.
Rep Meeks: Yeah. Yeah. As of right now, I’ve not heard from any of the organizations, Municipal League, counties, or sheriffs. I’ve not heard from any of them. The only folks that I’ve heard from are, obviously, the bomb folks here and people that are in support of the legislation of what we’re trying to do here. Like I said, I’ve not heard of any opposition from anybody.
Rep Dalby: Do you need a follow up?
Rep Scott: I do need a follow-up.
Rep Dalby: You’re recognized for a follow-up.
Rep Scott: What are the three areas that we said that we have bomb– I don’t think anyone said that. I was just trying to make notes of it.
Cardin: It’d be Fort Smith, Conway, and Little Rock are the three bomb squads.
Rep Scott: Okay.
Cardin: And I would say this is a small group of bomb techs we’re talking about. Our target staffing levels for the squads are six for Conway and Fort Smith. I’m not sure, Jason, what y’all’s target staffing level is. We’re talking 18 people, 20 people max, that this affects, but it affects us greatly because we’re the ones going down range, and we’re on scene with the bad guys. We don’t get called for good things, so.
Rep Scott: I understand. Thank you for your service.
Cardin: Thank you.
Rep Dalby: Representative Richmond, you’re recognized for a question.
Rep Richmond: Thank you, Ma’am Chair. Logistics on this, just get a little clarification. When you guys show up at a potential problem area, the uniform that you’re wearing, are you partially dressed in your bomb outfit already? Do you dress up and then– I mean, you know what I’m talking about? The bomb thing that gives you some– kind of keeps all your parts in one place if it blows up. Are you dressed in that? And if you are, how will the conceal carry work?
Rep Dalby: Hang on, before you answer. Members, if you have your microphones on, would you make sure you turn them off until you’re called on. We’re getting a little bit of backlash back up. So if you’ll do that. You’re recognized to answer the question. I’m sorry to impose.
Cardin: No problem. To answer your question, no, we don’t show up on scene in the bomb suit. That is after we have considered why we’re there, what we’re there for, things like that. And no, when I’m in the bomb suit, you can’t carry a weapon in that. It’s for our bomb techs that are on scene that are up range for our security at our command post and for us. I mean, I guess I would report to scene in something like this or we’d have our bomb squad t-shirts. This is more formal attire.
Rep Richmond: Follow up, Madam Chair?
Rep Dalby: You’re recognized for a follow-up.
Rep Richardson: Why did you designate concealed carry? Why not leave that up to the department, your department, and each department to make a determination what would best serve them in carrying?
Rep Meeks: So this is one of the kind of the confusions the way the bill is drafted. The way the bill is drafted and the code sections that it refers to actually allows them to choose between open carry and concealed carry. It’s just the way the bill drafter ended up having to draft it, it targets concealed carry more so than open carry. I know it’s a little bit confusing, but I’ve been assured by the bill drafter that it allows both. And for them to do either/or they’ve got to meet the qualifications of having the proper training and not being blacklisted and so forth.
Rep Richmond: All right. Thanks, Steven. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Rep Dalby: Representative Crawford, you’re recognized for a question.
Rep Crawford: Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you for being here.
Cardin: Thank you.
Rep Crawford: I was wondering, if you guys were a part– does a bomb squad go when an officer is in trouble in a rural area, as what happened in Johnson County when that police officer got shot. Were you guys part of that?
Cardin: We were not. We routinely respond with the S.W.A.T. team in Faulkner county and Conway, Arkansas, S.W.A.T. team. That was probably Mike Dawson with the State Police. I’m not sure, but Mike Dawson is the commander of the State Police Bomb Squad.
Rep Crawford: Okay, follow up, please. Would you say that if you had to enter a situation like that– you’re familiar with the officer who got shot in Johnson County, I’m sure. If you were called into a situation like that, wouldn’t it make it more streamlined to where you could actually enter the territory without asking for permission to carry a gun where you could be available to those who needed your help and to protect yourselves?
Cardin: Yes, ma’am, absolutely.
Rep Crawford: Thank you.
Rep Dalby: Representative Richardson, you’re recognized for a question.
Rep Richardson: Thank you, madam chair. A quick follow-up. So did you say that this bill allows– and I think I saw this– allows them to make arrests as well?
Rep Meeks: Just within the scope of their duties. So they’re not going to be arresting somebody for shoplifting at the local mall. This is only in these situations where we’re talking about. They have the authority to arrest within the scope of their duties to be able to hold the perpetrator until the police come and take over.
Rep Richardson: Follow up, madam chair.
Rep Dalby: You’re recognized.
Rep Richardson: And with this training, are you guys being trained on how to make arrests?
Cardin: Yes, sir. When we go through our initial certification, they do tend to skip on the traffic stops and stuff because that’s not what we’re there for. We’ll do use of force, detain, we are handgun retention. We’re trained to that level more so in response to the bomb squad on the scene.
Rep Meeks: And the bill specifically states that they have to go through a study that’s approved by the commission on law enforcement standards and training. So will be part of what they have to do in order to be able to have that authority.
Rep Dalby: Representative Moore, you’re recognized for a question.
Rep Moore: Thank you, madam chair. I’m just curious as to what type of training or requirements does a fire department volunteer or full-time have to go through to create or have a bomb squad.
Cardin: I think for this question, if you don’t mind, I would rather let SAC Dawson speak on that.
Rep Dalby: Representative Meeks, would you like to have Mr. Dawson come forward?
Rep Meeks: Yeah, yeah. Mr. Dawson, if you don’t mind, why don’t you have this seat here and you can introduce yourself.
Rep Dalby: Mr. Dawson, you’re recognized.
Dawson: Sure. My name is Jim Dawson. I’m the special agent in charge of the FBI in the state of Arkansas. So prior to being a special agent in charge of the FBI here in Arkansas, I was a special agent in charge of the FBI in the National Capital Region in the Washington field office. Prior to that, I was the chief of the counter-improvised explosive devices section and program for the FBI and the executive branch of the U.S. government. As such, I had direct oversight over hazardous devices school, where all bomb technicians in the United States are trained, whether they’re state, local, or federal. In this instance, bomb technicians around the United States are trained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation at its facility in Huntsville, Alabama. In order to be recognized as a bomb technician and to be incorporated into a bomb technician team in the United States, they must attend training that is delivered by the FBI at that facility. A determination on the suitability of those individuals is made by the FBI. They must complete the entire course in order to be a certified bomb technician and be incorporated in a team in the United States.
Rep Dalby: Representative Nicks, you’re recognized for a question.
Rep Nicks: Thank you, madam chair. I think Representative Richardson touched on this, and I do understand and I’m all for the situation of carrying and being protected out there in your situation. I guess my concern– and I can’t find it in here- as far as arrest power and arrest– now, it’s not, to me– I can’t find where it’s clear– does this just pertain to bomb squad activity or that scene? It’s not when you go through the law enforcement training academy, you have all these powers. So it doesn’t apply to going to the scene, arrests made, traffic stops and all those things. But I don’t see it clearly labeled here.
Rep Meeks: So on page 3 section 5 of the bill, it says after they’ve gone through the course of study that they may make arrests for violations of the law related to explosives and incidents involving explosives. So that’s very limited to their scope of practice. So like I said, they’re not going to be shoplifting or for anything else other than explosives and incidents involving explosives. So if they pull up and there’s nothing to do with explosives there, they have no arrest authority.
Rep Nicks: Thank you.
Rep Dalby: Representative Richmond, you’re recognized for a question.
Rep Richardson: Thank you, madam chair. And I apologize, Stephen, I’m still hung up on this concealed carry thing a little bit, in that, isn’t the language in the bill– isn’t that a limiting factor when you put it into law that it says concealed carry? Doesn’t it make the determination that the only way these guys can carry– and again, I’m sure a lot of folks don’t think it’s a big deal, but I just think it should be left to the department to make a decision. So why not just use carry?
Rep Meeks: That’s how the– because I expressed that same concern to the lawyer. As you know, under Arkansas law, currently open carry is allowed. And so any individual can open carry. And so the way– from what I understand, the way she’s got this drafted, you can only concealed carry under certain circumstances. And so I think that’s why she drafted the bill to be so specific to the concealed carry stuff is to broaden their ability to concealed carry in these circumstances. Because I think under open carry, you can open carry regardless, right? That’s my understanding. And so I’ve been assured by the lawyer that, yes, they have the choice between open and concealed carry.
Rep Richardson: I feel so much better that the lawyer assured you.
Rep Meeks: I am not a lawyer and I don’t pretend to play one on TV, so I have to trust our folks over in the Bureau know what they’re doing.
Rep Dalby: And the lawyers in the committee appreciate that, Representative Richmond. Representative Gazaway, you’re recognized for a question.
Rep Gazaway: Thank you, madam chair. And I apologize if I’m asking a question that’s been asked numerous times already, but what it appears to me is that this bill does two things. One, it allows a member of a bomb squad to take a gun into a situation where there is a bomb, which is an inherently dangerous situation. And number two, it gives those members the ability to make an arrest in a very specific situation where there’s a bomb threat. My concern– and I think it’s maybe been asked multiple times, but I just haven’t fully grasped the answer– is that if we’re allowing someone to take a gun into a situation where there’s a bomb, that person needs to be adequately trained on how to handle firearms and how to handle these dangerous situations because they could very easily make what is already a very dangerous situation worse. And so can you tell me very explicitly what type of firearms training a member of a bomb squad would have before they are allowed to go into this situation with a gun?
Rep Meeks: I think I’m going to leave that to the gentlemen who’ve had the training and they can explain better what training they have and maybe answer your question.
Cardin: Thank you. As I stated before, Conway has went through the part-time too. That has fulfilled the requirements that Sheriff Ryals– was Montgomery at the time– required for us to carry. See, we can carry right now. We can detain people right now under Sheriff Ryals’ authority. So he feels that we have enough training now to do that currently. This is more about Skip. My relationship with the Faulkner County sheriff’s office is great right now. I don’t see this bill affecting me either way currently. But if my guys were ever to fall under and have Skip’s problem where the local sheriff didn’t support us for whatever reason, this gives us the ability to carry. I don’t know that I’m answering your question. I understand what training we’ve been through. We qualify twice a year with Faulkner County. We’ve been through the classes. We’ve done everything that a Faulkner County sheriff’s deputy does and is required to do for them to carry. That might ease your mind a little bit. We’re not going through any lesser of a course because we’re a fire department. And I understand we’re a unique entity. Most of your bomb squads in the country are police departments. We’re talking about 35 in the country that are fire department personnel. So we want to do everything right. We’re going to get that training– or continue the training, not get the training, continue the training.
Rep Meeks: Yeah. So these are not just amateurs on the street. These are guys who have been through police training. They’ve been to the FBI and have been through FBI training. So these guys are well vetted and they’re heroes to our community and anything we can do to support them to make sure they’re safe so they can come home to their families, that’s what we need to do. And that’s what we’re trying to do here with this bill, hopefully, with your support.
Rep Dalby: Representative Clowney, you’re recognized for a question.
Rep Clowney: Thank you, madam chair. I’d like to come back to Representative Richmond’s question about the concealed carry. If what you were told, Representative Meeks, is correct, that currently anybody is free to open carry wherever they want in the state of Arkansas but that what we need to address is concealed carry, I guess, why are we here? What is the purpose for this if it’s true? And I think maybe my concern is that that area of the law is a little bit less settled than maybe the lawyer presented it to you. I think it is still a bit unclear. So if there are concerns about concealed versus open carry, just, I mean, why do we need this if it’s true that you can open carry anywhere?
Rep Meeks: So I agree that the law still could be clarified some on the open carry. But even though any citizen of the state can open carry, I guess the concern is they can’t open carry within the line of their duty without this authorization and without this proper training. Does that kind of makes sense, hopefully? I don’t know if you gentlemen might have a better answer for that or–
Cardin: I don’t have a better answer than that, but bill this also gives us the ability to make arrests and detain people. If we didn’t have that power, we get on scene with these bad guys, what is our options? Sure, we’ve got open carry, but I can’t detain someone. I can’t arrest. That’s just some of our concerns, too.
Rep Dalby: Representative Moore, you’re recognized for a question.
Rep Moore: Thank you, madam chair. It says at the bottom of the bill that the training would be authorized under CLEST or commission on law enforcement standards and training. Have you all spoken with them as to exactly what that training would look like? Personally, I’m a part-time class two deputy for Monroe County Sheriff and I’ve taken a 120-hour class and it’s fantastic. Would it be similar to that or something entirely different?
Cardin: Thank you for the question. Yes, sir. It would be exactly like that, whatever the requirements are to be the part-time; or Little Rock may choose to continue to do the certified course, the certified training. That’s a six-month, if I understood Jason Weaver correctly. That’s six months that they’re doing law enforcement, not being a fireman. But yes, at the very minimum, it would be the 120 hours and continuing.
Rep Dalby: Representative Crawford, you’re recognized for a question.
Rep Crawford: Thank you, madam chair. Could we hear the testimony of what happens when a sheriff does not support you?
Mathews: Thank you. Well, it’s not that they’re not supporting you. I’ve been through four sheriffs since my time as a bomb tech. It all started with the first sheriff when we got deputized with him and we went through his stuff like that. But you get a new sheriff that’s elected, well, he might– the new sheriffs come in, they all have their new policies and stuff like that. And the current sheriff now, their policy is they do not have any part-time deputies anymore. We were considered a part-time deputy. So all he has is his full-time deputies. So– I’m sorry. But anyways, currently, he does not recognize a part-time deputy, what they call a part-time deputy. And that’s what we were considered.
Mathews: So I can tell you the story if we’ve got a little bit of time. What started this going was an incident in northern Crawford County. This was way back in the– it was several miles ride in an off-road vehicle to get to a survivalist bunker that was up in the middle of nowhere. So at the time, I was a brand-new bomb tech then. Four of us bomb techs, fire department bomb techs, we’re up there with State Police and FBI and force reservists and we’re clearing this survivalist bunker out. And it had thousands of rounds of ammunition. What the concern was, where we kind of started researching all this, is the concern was we were in the middle of nowhere and we had safety concerns there. So if the perpetrator or the bad guy was out there watching us take all his stuff, seizing all his stuff, he could have just opened up fire or whatever, and we had no protection. So that really raised a lot of concern with me at the time because, as bunk commander, the safety of my crew– then that’s when I went to the sheriff immediately, and said, “Hey, what can we do about this?”
Mathews: And so we started at the local level and went through his course, went through his complete part-time two deputy course to get certified to carry firearms. And then we tried to stretch a little further by going in with the FBI and– because we were only limited to Sebastian County. We don’t respond to just Sebastian County. We’re the western side of Arkansas. So that’s kind of our response district. So we needed to kind of expand that a little bit too. And got with the FBI and we became render safe taskforce to kind of help that out a little bit. Anyways, it was a huge concern with me, being a fireman, that we were up in the middle– and we respond, he told you, we respond county, rural areas, a lot. We’re out in the middle of nowhere, and there might be just one or two deputies with us that found this IED or whatever the case may be. We’ll run around and we’re out there without protection. And that’s the main concern with us is to have that protection. And we want to do it right by going through the training. We don’t want to just say, “Hey, I can open carry. This is Arkansas.” But we want to go through the proper steps, get the proper training, and continue our education too. Because we have to continue our education on the bomb side of it, the fire side of it, too. So we’re continually training with this. And this is not just a one-and-done deal. We’ll continue that. That answer your question?
Rep Dalby: Members, any other questions? We have no one who has signed up to speak for or against the bill. Representative Meeks, you’re recognized to close for your bill.
Rep Meeks: Thank you, madam chair. Thank you, committee members. A lot of good questions this morning. You know, for me, this all boils down to a simple question. Passing this bill allows these guys, who’ve had all the proper training, who have been through the FBI course, who are heroes, to be able to defend and protect themselves in these dangerous situations. If we say no, it could mean some of them losing their lives simply because we’re not allowing these guys who are, again, our heroes from being able to protect themselves and be able to protect the ones that we love. So with that, I would appreciate the committee’s support and would ask for a do pass.
Rep Dalby: Members, Representative Meeks has closed for his bill. Do I have a motion? Representative Crawford. We have a motion to do pass on the floor. Is there any discussion of the motion? Seeing no discussion of the motion, all in favor of the motion, please say aye. All opposed, say no. The ayes have it. Congratulations. You have passed your bill.
Rep Meeks: Thank you, committee.
Rep Dalby: Members, at this time, we’re not going to take up any additional bills today. But if you’ll watch the calendar, it’s starting to grow. Here is what we have scheduled for Thursday. We will have on Thursday House Bill 1098, House Bill 1098, and we’ll also have House Bill 1004. Right now, those are the two we have scheduled, but I will be working the House floor today and so watch for your email– I mean, text message. Anybody on the committee did not– did everyone get their text message? Anybody not get one? Okay, so I think we have all good phone numbers. Watch your phones. I will be letting you know as our agenda for Thursday grows. And with that, thank you for your hard work today and look forward to seeing you Thursday. We are adjourned.