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Bill to allow concealed guns on University of Alaska campuses moves forward

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published April 11, 2016

A bill allowing concealed guns on University of Alaska campuses moved out of one state House committee and headed into another after a rushed hearing Monday.

Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, who chairs the House Education Committee and supports the bill, referenced a jam-packed calendar to restrict public testimony to two minutes. He later put the measure to a vote over a Democratic committee member's complaint that she had an unanswered question.

The state Senate passed the bill 13 to 5 last week. Sponsored by Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, the bill would restrict the university's ability to designate large areas of campus as concealed-weapon-free zones. There are some exceptions where weapons couldn't be carried, such as student disciplinary areas and rooms where sexual assault or domestic violence cases are being investigated.

Gun owners can keep guns in dorm rooms, but in locked boxes. The legislation allows the university to make housing decisions based on those who want to keep guns in dorm rooms.

Kelly says the bill would allow students to defend themselves in the event of a campus shooting. He also said it resolves a conflict with the state constitution that allows people older than 21 to carry concealed weapons.

University of Alaska student leadership and some faculty are among those opposing the bill, arguing it would make campuses less safe. The University of Alaska Board of Regents has voted 9-2 to oppose the bill unless lawmakers adopt a series of amendments proposed by the university.

After testimony in Monday's hearing, Rep. Ivy Sponholz, D-Anchorage, said she wanted to know how the law would affect insurance rates for the university. A representative of the National Rifle Association had testified moments earlier and suggested the university could incur some liability in the event of a mass shooting.

The NRA representative, Brian Judy, said he couldn't answer the question. Sponholz said she wanted to hear from someone in the university.

But Keller stopped the hearing there, saying the committee was short on time and had to go to other meetings. Sponholz said her question wasn't answered.

"Take that into account with your vote, then," Keller told her.

Sponholz ultimately voted no, joining Democrat Harriet Drummond of Anchorage and Republican Paul Seaton of Homer, who broke with his caucus members on the issue. Seaton said he didn't want to override the university's regulatory power and disagreed about the constitutional issue, noting that the state Capitol has a policy against concealed weapons.

Keller, Liz Vazquez, Jim Colver and David Talerico, all members of the House Republican majority, voted yes, transferring it out of the committee. Just before adjourning, Keller apologized for the meeting being "a bit rushed."

How much the bill would cost the university was another question that went unanswered Monday. In a fiscal note, the university claimed it would would need an extra $1.3 million to make the regulatory change. The Senate Finance Committee, meanwhile, said no cost would be associated with the change.

Keller said in an interview after the committee hearing that the bill will also now need to go to the House Finance Committee to resolve differences over the financial impact of the legislation. But first, the bill heads to the House Judiciary Committee, where a hearing was scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the University of Alaska Board of Regents' position on the bill.

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