In hopes of deterring more gun crime in the state, the House passed a bill Wednesday that, if enacted, would prohibit parole for convicted felons who are found guilty of committing another crime while possessing a firearm.
The House voted 78-13 to approve Senate Bill 300, sponsored by Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy.
Rep. Keith Slape, R-Compton, the bill's House sponsor, said the bill was for "the bad actors" who are responsible for shootings around the state in recent weeks.
"Just in the time that we've been in session here, there have been several homicides, and a lot of that could have prevented," Slape said.
During discussion of the bill on the House floor Wednesday, Rep. Andrew Collins, D-Little Rock, asked what the fiscal impact of the bill would be and whether taking parole away from multiple-time violent offenders would require the state to build another prison.
Slape said the bill would cost the state $254 million over 10 years and the state would have to build another prison, according to Solomon Graves, secretary of the Department of Corrections.
Former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Cody Hiland, spoke in favor of the bill in committee Tuesday, saying the change could be used by prosecutors to combat gun crimes in the state.
"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 Tuesday.
Hiland said taking parole away from "violent repeat offenders" could give prosecutors more leverage in negotiations over plea deals in hopes of keeping gun offenders locked up longer.
Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, said she was concerned the bill would target "black and brown" people who already make up a disproportionate share of the state's prison population, relative to their numbers in the state's population.
"I'm afraid this would sweep more people in the system than what's targeted and for that reason, I can't support it," said Flowers at the bill's hearing Tuesday.