GUN BILLS MOVE TO CONFERENCE COMMITTEES
(AUSTIN) — Bills relating to open carry of handguns and concealed carry on college campuses will be negotiated by members of the House and Senate before a final vote. On Thursday, Senator Brian Birdwell of Granbury refused to concur in House amendments to his campus carry legislation. Tuesday, the House refused to concur with a Senate amendment to the open carry bill, and Thursday the Senate appointed a conference committee to handle that issue. Each committee is composed of five members from each chamber, with the bill authors serving as chief negotiators. Three of the five of each chamber, and six in total, must agree to any deals worked out before they can come before their respective chambers for final approval.
Birdwell highlighted three amendments the House placed on SB 11 in their debate on the issue Tuesday. Only one was acceptable to him; an amendment that would give Boards of Regents at public universities the ability to decide what areas of their campus they want exempted from concealed carry. Under that amendment, regents could not make a blanket concealed carry ban but they could vote to designate sensitive areas, like biotech labs, as gun free zones. Birdwell said that two more amendments were not acceptable to him. One would exempt health research facilities from the bill, and the second would require that private colleges follow the lead of public colleges in setting concealed carry policies. The version of the bill passed by the Senate would have permitted private colleges to decide whether or not to allow students to carry concealed handguns. Birdwell said that the right to bear arms and private property rights must both be respected. "You must protect both constitutional rights equally and not subordinate one to the other," said Birdwell. The five members of the committee that will work with the House are Senators Birdwell, Hinojosa, Burton, Schwertner and Huffman.
It was the House that refused to concur with an amendment added by the Senate to the open carry bill, HB 910. That bill that would allow licensed gun owners to openly carry a handgun in a belt or shoulder holster. It was amended by Senator Don Huffines of Dallas to prohibit police officers from asking to see a person's handgun license simply because they are observed open carrying. This controversial amendment was opposed by many in the Senate but was ultimately added to the bill before its final passage. The House voted not to concur with that amendment, and Thursday the Senate appointed five members to negotiate a final product with the House. Bill sponsor Senator Craig Estes will chair the committee and he will be joined by Senators Huffines, Huffman, Eltife and Uresti.
These conference committees for these two bills can vote to strip the controversial amendments, change them, or keep them intact. They will then present a conference committee report to their respective chambers. If both chambers approve these reports by a simple majority, then the bills head to the governor's desk to be signed into law. Lawmakers have until midnight Sunday to craft final agreements and offer them for final votes.
The Senate will reconvene Friday, May 29 at 10:00 a.m.