The Sebastian County Quorum Court took no action on a proposed "constitutional rights sanctuary" ordinance Tuesday.
County Judge David Hudson said after the meeting that District 3 Justice of the Peace Shawn Looper made a motion to adopt the ordinance, but it failed for lack of a second and did not come up for a vote.
The purpose of the constitutional rights sanctuary ordinance is to protect "the state and federal constitutional rights" of Sebastian County residents, according to the proposal. It states that certain actions that it describes as "unlawful acts" will be invalid and not recognized by Sebastian County, rendering them null and void and of no effect in the county. The proposed ordinance defines such acts as any federal, state or local act, law, order, rule or regulation that restricts an individual's constitutional rights.
The meeting, which was originally scheduled to take place in April, was plagued by technical difficulties. Those who decided to watch or participate in the meeting via Zoom in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic had difficulty hearing and/or understanding what was said at the meeting location, the Greenwood High School safe shelter. This included Sebastian County Justices of the Peace Jackie Davis, James Butler, Valeria Robinson, Rhonda Royal, Linda Willsey Murry and Karla Reedy, although they could hear themselves without issue.
Hudson said because of these problems, he had to double-check that the justices of the peace who were on Zoom could hear him and Looper's motion, with them confirming that they did.
"That difficulty [hearing] got worse, and so we adjourned the May meeting and didn't do any other business," Hudson said. "But I had a discussion either using the telephone or using the microphone in the meeting to confirm that the six members of the Quorum Court that were online understood the motion and didn't want to second it. So based on that procedure, we considered that the ordinance failed."
Hudson said he would talk to the justices of the peace individually in an effort to come up with a Quorum Court meeting within another few days. Despite Tuesday's technical issues, he said, the constitutional rights sanctuary ordinance will not be discussed at the upcoming meeting unless somebody puts it on the agenda.
Looper said on Wednesday that the main reason why he made the motion to adopt the ordinance was that he wanted it to be brought to a vote so that discussion about it could take place.
"I know some of the other members had concerns about it, and so my hope was to bring it to a vote and have that discussion, and then if we needed to tweak certain things in the ordinance, then they could be done at that time," Looper said.
Scott County became the first Arkansas county to pass a "Bill of Rights Ordinance" on Jan. 21, with the county declaring that it would not enforce any laws it deems unconstitutional, including laws restricting guns.
According to the ordinance, "Scott County has the right to be free of the commanding hand of the state and federal government and has the right to refuse to cooperate with state and federal government officials in response to unconstitutional state and federal government measures, and to proclaim a Bill of Rights sanctuary for law-abiding citizens in their cities and county."
This is part of a "Second Amendment sanctuary" trend that took root in some states and particularly in Virginia, where more than 100 cities and counties have passed some sort of Second Amendment sanctuary resolution. It is in response to "sanctuary cities," where local police limit how much they enforce federal immigration laws.
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
Unlawful acts, as outlined in the proposed Sebastian County ordinance, include, but are not limited to:
• Any tax, levy, fee, or stamp imposed on firearms accessories, or ammunition not common to all other goods and services on the purchase or ownership of those items by people.
• Any registration or tracking of firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition.
• Any registration or tracking of the owners of firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition.
• Any act forbidding the possession, manner of carry, ownership, or use or transfer of any type of firearm, firearm accessory, or ammunition by residents of legal age.
• Any act ordering the confiscation of firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition from the people.
• Any prohibition, regulation, and/or use restriction related to ownership or the use or carry of automatic firearms.
• Any use of county funds or funds given to the county by any entity, to participate in a "gun buyback" program or event.
• Any use of county funds, or funds given to the county by any entity to any other government official or entity that violates or has violated any individual's rights as outlined in the state or federal constitution; is hereby illegal.
The proposed ordinance also includes a requirement adding to the county's personnel policy. If passed:
• All new and renewed county employees will read and sign that they understand and agree with this ordinance.
• Any employee who refuses to adhere to the ordinance after passage is subject to termination.
• Any official, department head, or employee who is in violation of the ordinance shall be subject to a fine of up to $500 and/or termination.
However, the ordinance also outlines certain exceptions. For example, the right to bear arms protection the ordinance provides does not apply to residents who have been convicted of felony crimes, or who are convicted after the ordinance passes. In addition, the ordinance states it is not intended to, in any way, prohibit or affect the prosecution of any crime for which the use of, or possession of, a firearm is an aggravating factor or enhancement to an otherwise independent crime.
'AREAS OF CONCERN'
In a memo that was included in the meeting packet, Sebastian County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Shue said he received a response from Mike Rainwater, an attorney for the Association of Arkansas Counties Risk Management Fund, regarding a letter he sent on Feb. 21. According to him, this response raises "many areas of concern" pertaining to the passage of the ordinance.
"I would likewise echo those concerns expressed by Mr. Rainwater with particular attention being paid to the ramifications for the Sebastian County Sheriff's Office in defense of civil lawsuits and search and seizure issues in criminal cases," Shue wrote. "I did follow-up his email with a phone call to Mr. Rainwater and he also expressed uneasiness about Sebastian County's duty to cooperate in the defense of potential claims, if the proposed ordinance is passed."
In his response, Rainwater offered his analysis of a proposed second amendment sanctuary ordinance for Benton County. Among his criticisms were that this ordinance, similarly to the one proposed for Sebastian County, defines "any act forbidding the possession in any location ... of a firearm ... by citizens ... eighteen and over," as an unlawful act. According to him, this means that any and every 12th grader who is 18 years of age can have a gun at any public school at any time.
"The proposed ordinance forbids 'any act ordering the confiscation of firearms ... from citizens' which would mean, literally, that court orders can be ignored and that search warrants could not be issued for the seizure of firearms of any citizen," Rainwater wrote.
Sebastian County's 127,827 residents make it the state's fourth most populous county, behind Pulaski, Benton and Washington counties.
Information for this article was contributed by Bill Bowden of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
State Desk on 05/21/2020