Arkansas lawmakers sharply disagreed Monday over whether drivers should be banned from using hand-held cell phones in school zones.

Arkansas lawmakers sharply disagreed Monday over whether drivers should be banned from using hand-held cell phones in school zones.

The House defeated a bill that would ban drivers from using hand-held cell phones in school zones during school hours. But less than an hour later, a Senate panel advanced a similar proposal that would prohibit the devices near schools and in highway work zones. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats, though the vote in the House was not along party lines.

Both proposals would allow the use of hands-free cell phones and GPS devices.

Members of the House voted 46-47 to defeat the legislation proposed by Rep. Fred Allen, after several representatives raised concerns about whether the bill would punish parents waiting to pick up children.

"Have you ever waited for an hour in a long line of cars for your child or grandchild to come out of school?" Rep. Donna Hutchinson, R-Bella Vista, asked Allen as he defended his bill on the House floor.

Another state lawmaker, Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, pointed out that some parents use cell phones while waiting in line to coordinate afterschool pickups.

But Allen, a Little Rock Democrat, shot down that argument as he talked to reporters after the House vote. His bill would make using a hand-held phone in a school zone a secondary offense, meaning a driver could only be cited if he or she was pulled over for a primary offense — such as speeding — first.

"You can actually wait in your car and still use your cell phone," Allen said. "It's only . if you're speeding or you have a wreck or something like that, that's when you'd be ticketed. The police officer is not going to pull you over just for talking on your cell phone."

He says he hopes to gain enough votes to bring the bill back to the House.

Meanwhile, a Senate committee advanced a similar proposal by Sen. Jerry Taylor, D-Pine Bluff, shortly after the House defeated Allen's proposal.

Taylor's bill would prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones in school zones and highway work zones. He said he's surprised Allen's measure was defeated by the House, but thinks it could gain support. Taylor's measure now heads to the full Senate for a vote.

Taylor said he was "puzzled" by the House rejecting Allen's measure. Allen is listed as a co-sponsor of Taylor's bill, which would also make the violation a secondary offense.

"I think it's strictly a safety issue, so I hope it's not a problem," Taylor said after the Senate Transportation, Technology and Legislative Affairs Committee advanced his proposal. "I don't know why it would be but obviously, from what happened down there, maybe in somebody's mind it is."

The House also passed legislation that would keep the state from paying attorney's fees for private attorneys that indigent defendants hire on their own.

The bill, proposed by Rep. John Edwards, D-Little Rock, would allow the state to pay other expenses for private attorneys if they met conditions set by the Public Defender Commission. The proposal wouldn't bar the state from paying for private attorneys appointed to a case by a judge.

Edwards' bill was in response to a state Supreme Court order for the state Public Defender Commission to pay the expenses for the private attorney representing Abdulhakim Muhammad, who's on trial in the shooting death of a soldier outside a Little Rock recruiting center. The court said state law did allow the commission to pay for expenses of a privately retained attorney.

The Arkansas Senate has voted to raise the cap on hospital assessment fees to help bring in more federal dollars.

By a 27-2 vote, the Senate voted to raise the cap. Hospitals can currently set aside up to one percent of net patient revenue to attract matching funds for Medicaid. Democratic Sen. Larry Teague's bill would raise that cap to about 5.5 percent.

It would not force hospitals, who assess the fee themselves, to set aside the full amount.

Lawmakers also advanced legislation aimed at limiting the retirement benefits for the lottery's director and top two officials. The Joint Committee on Public Retirement and Social Security Programs sent to the Senate a bill limiting the definition of compensation that's used for calculating retirement benefits. The proposal by Republican Sen. Johnny Key of Mountain Home would only count the base salary for a state employee's retirement benefits.

The lottery commission is currently allowed to pay more than the limit set as the base salary for the director, internal auditor and chief operating officer of the lottery. For example, Lottery Director Ernie Passailaigue's base salary under the law is $141,603 but he makes about $324,000 because of the allowance.

The bill now heads to the Senate for a vote.

Also Monday, legislative leaders filed a measure to limits the travel expenses of lawmakers and to create a one-year "cooling-off" period before former lawmakers could become lobbyists.

The identical measures from House Speaker Robert Moore and Senate President Paul Bookout would cap the reimbursement cost for lawmakers at whichever is the least expensive. Legislators could still take the more expensive trip, but they would be reimbursed only for the cheaper way.

The lobbying restriction would affect lawmakers who are elected or re-elected on or after the bill takes effect, but not current lawmakers who won't return.