AUGUSTA — A bill that would allow state workers to store concealed weapons in their locked vehicles while at work gained initial approval Monday from the Maine House.

L.D. 1603 would extend to state workers the same rights that a bill last year granted to workers in the private sector. The House voted 84-55 to support the bill. It now goes to the Senate for consideration, and will face further votes in the House.

Rep. David Burns, R-Whiting, said the bill would reaffirm the Second Amendment right to bear arms. “I don’t give up those constitutional rights because I’m a state employee, and I shouldn’t be asked to,” he said.

Last year, Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon, sponsored legislation that says employers cannot prohibit workers with concealed-firearms permits from keeping guns in their locked vehicles at work.

This year, Crafts came back with a separate bill to extend that provision to vehicles parked on state property, including courts and the State House.

The Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 8-5 in support of the bill. The committee’s House chairman, Rep. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, said people who have concealed-weapons permits have been “thoroughly vetted” and judged by the state police to have “good moral character.”

“It seemed to many of us this was just affirming rights people already have,” he said.

But another committee member, Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, noted that the bill would allow people who work at state psychiatric hospitals, prisons and courthouses to store guns in their vehicles.

“We don’t want to encourage anyone, even our employees, to bring guns near courts,” she said.

Others, including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, want to repeal the law that lawmakers passed last year.

The chamber opposed the bill last year because it wants employers to have the power to set their own workplace policies regarding weapons. In a recent newsletter, the chamber urged lawmakers to reject the new bill and support an amendment to repeal the current law regarding private employers.

During Monday’s debate in the House, Rep. Bruce MacDonald, D-Boothbay, said, “We’re taking a reckless step to allow firearms in vehicles” and creating new ways for guns to end up in the wrong hands.

“If a thief wants to get into your car, they can do it easily,” he said.

That prompted Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, to challenge MacDonald.

“The logic seems to be, because our weapon could be stolen, we should acquiesce to the thief rather than the citizen,” he said.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]