The House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would end parole for those convicted of multiple violent felonies.
Rep. Keith Slape, R-Compton, a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 300, said the bill aimed to stem the tide of recent gun crimes by keeping repeat offenders locked up.
If SB300 became law, then someone convicted of multiple violent crimes such as first-degree murder, rape or aggravated assault or "a violent felony offense or any felony sex offense" would be ineligible for parole.
Former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Cody Hiland spoke for the bill, saying "violent repeat offenders" are the "bane of law enforcement's existence."
"We have got to start doing something related to violent repeat offenders so we set a hard edge for them when they come out and they start pulling the trigger in our communities," Hiland said.
Hiland said a spate of gun violence in the state has put pressure on police and devastated communities that have been racked by crime for years.
Slape argued the bill is necessary because state law isn't as stringent as federal law when it comes to locking away violent repeat offenders, saying that when he was Newton County sheriff, he referred many gun violence cases to the U.S. attorney's office.
Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, said she was concerned the bill would significantly increase the state's prison population, which disproportionately locks up "Black and brown" people.
"I'm afraid this would sweep more people in the system than what's targeted, and for that reason, I can't support it," Flowers said.
Rep. Andrew Collins, D-Little Rock, said he could support a bill that increases prison time for repeat offenders, but he said the current iteration of the bill could lead to overcrowded prisons.
SB300, passed by the Senate on March 29, now heads to the House.
The House Judiciary Committee also discussed:
• House Bill 1914, which would stop someone with a "serious mental illness" from being executed in Arkansas. However, the committee delayed a vote on the proposal until it receives a fiscal impact statement.
Under the bill, someone would have to be diagnosed with a "serious mental illness" both before and after the commission of the crime. If enacted, the bill would not apply to those already on death row.
• Senate Bill 573, which came out of the committee after two attempts Tuesday. The bill would block counties and cities from posting signs that bar carrying concealed weapons in government buildings.
Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, said the purpose of SB573 was to "clean up" the state's concealed-carry law. Ballinger said his bill does not apply to courtrooms or jails.