Week 4 of the Legislature: What to expect
A lot. Expect a lot.
We expect education legislation to drop.
Gov. Sarah Sanders’ administration has been drafting an omnibus bill that encompasses her goals for education reform. We expect some form of vouchers, teacher pay, and a lot of pressure on legislators.
What’s happening is weird.
The Legislative Branch doesn’t usually delegate its authority to draft laws like this to the Executive Branch. Few legislators have even been invited to see the draft legislation. It seems they’re handing over A LOT of power. Of course, anything has to be ‘officially’ drafted by the Bureau of Legislative Research in order for it to be filed - but that doesn’t mean that this is coming from legislators.
Omnibus bills in general aren’t the norm for Arkansas politics. It’s DC-style gamesmanship that hasn’t been seen much here. What’s an omnibus bill? It’s basically cramming a whole bunch of stuff in one bill - some you may like, some you may not like - and you have to vote yes or no on the whole thing. Again, we see that all the time in DC. But not here at home.
Thinking through the politics.
It’s likely things are going to move super fast once legislation is filed. Here’s the deal. If the bill proponents are smart, they don’t want legislators having time to hear from their local superintendents, teachers, parents, etc. They want this filed, heard, voted on, and passed ASAP.
It will be a high-pressure environment for the legislators, with sharp elbows from an executive to quickly pass a major, game-changing bill that legislators didn’t even write. And to do that before they vet it through their local schools.
Could we be wrong? Absolutely. And we hope we are. Common Ground hasn’t taken a position on education reform and probably won’t. It’s not our area of expertise. But we do care a whole lot about the process and making sure Arkansans can give their two cents on a bill that could dramatically change our educational system.
What’s the opposition doing?
Democrats did file a couple of education-related bills last week. One would raise minimum teacher pay far beyond what was previously proposed (to $50,000), and another would raise the funding-per-pupil for schools. If the goal was to get these on a committee agenda so that Republicans would be forced to vote against teacher pay on the record, they may have left filing a bit too late - assuming the Republican education bill is filed this week.
The other stuff
The drag performance bill (SB 43) by Sen. Stubblefield passed the Senate on a party-line vote and should be heard in House City, County, and Local Affairs on Wednesday.
The Senate Agri Committee heard a long discussion last week on SB 5 that would amend rules on telehealth and telemedicine for veterinarians. The debate is around whether or not there should be an in-person establishing visit for an animal before they can be seen via telemedicine. It’s a big topic in the agri world and one worth watching. The discussion was informational only. No votes scheduled as yet.
The ‘bathroom bill,’ Rep. Bentley’s HB 1156 that would require schools to ensure people use the bathroom or changing room (think, locker room) of their birth-assigned gender, was heard for testimony only last week. A couple of things in the bill:
It would require schools to provide a single-occupancy bathroom or changing room for transgender individuals, but it doesn’t specify the number or proximity of the single-occupancy bathrooms. (For example, if 200 transgender students are required to use one bathroom or the only single-occupancy changing room is a 10-minute walk from the gym.)
It would also require schools to give students who don’t identify as their birth-assigned gender their own room on overnight trips.
This bill is awaiting a fiscal impact statement, which is unlikely to be terribly accurate unless DFA knows exactly how many single occupancy restrooms are in every single school in the state.
It’s being amended for the second time by Rep. Bentley. She has had difficulty settling upon a penalty. First, it reduced the funding a school that was found in violation received from the state. She removed that and amended it to reduce the salary of certain high-level school administrators like the superintendent and principal. Of course, the main crux is the bill allows a parent to sue the school if they feel it was in violation.
HB 1028 by Rep. C Fite; Makes verbiage about child sexual abuse more applicable and prosecutable (passed both chambers)
SB 47 by Sen. Boyd; Decriminalizes warming up your car in the morning unattended or using your remote start (passed the Senate)
SB 48 by Sen. M Johnson; Gives liability protections to Arkansans and nonprofits acting as Good Samaritans to help others (In House Judiciary)
HB 1150 by Rep. Cavenaugh; Gives people moving to Arkansas more time to register their vehicles with the state (In Senate Transportation)
60 days instead of 30
HB 1123 by Rep. Vaught; Allows people who have voluntarily sought mental health in-patient treatment to be eligible to obtain a concealed carry under certain circumstances (In Senate City, County, Local)
HB 1098 by Rep. Mayberry; Allows newborn safety devices to be installed at volunteer fire departments under certain circumstances (In Senate Judiciary)
HB 1125 by Rep. Evans; Keeps sex offenders from having a drone with a camera on it (In Senate Judiciary)
HB 1178 by Rep. L Johnson; Reduces the required hours for community paramedics (really cool community program) (In Senate Public Health)
HB 1091 by Rep. Dalby; Requires that a GED be treated the same as a high school diploma for state employment opportunities (In Senate Education)
HB 1099 by Rep. Collins; Specifies the time that someone has to seek an opinion from the Attorney General on a FOIA issue (In Senate State Agencies)
SB 74 by Sen. Boyd; Allows surrogates to apply for benefits for individuals who need public benefits (On Senate Floor Monday)
This was brought by hospitals who are seeing rising numbers of elderly being abandoned at the hospital with no resources
HB 1208 by Rep. Dalby; Fixes an issue where people released from prison were being given ‘temporary’ driving permits that lasted a decade or longer (On House floor Monday)
It also ensures that no one is issued a permit who didn’t previously have a drivers license.
HB 1122 by Rep. Vaught; Returns the start of the school year to the dates it was before a change was made last session (passed both chambers)
Sets it to week of August 19
The issue was that some schools were having to administer semester tests after Christmas break.
HB 1137 by Rep. Cavenaugh; Allows local governments to burn limbs and vegetation they collect from residents (passed both chambers)
HB 1014 by Rep. Watson; Allows coroners to do online training and keeps convicted felons from serving as deputy coroners (In Senate City, County, Local)
There was initially heartburn from some Representatives about not allowing convicted felons, even if expunged, to serve.
The bill initially failed and then was sent back to committee on a previous floor vote. It wasn’t amended and was passed on the second try on the floor.
HB 1040 by Rep. Ray; Keeps people who sell pre-paid legal services (legal insurance) from having to be licensed by the state to sell it (In Senate Insurance and Commerce)
HB 1147 by Rep. Vaught; Allows home builders and their sales staff to sell without a real estate license (In Senate Insurance and Commerce)
This was a major controversy in the last session. All parties worked together in interim and found a solution.
Home builders must have a licensed agent overseeing the sales team, but each sales person no longer requires licensing.
HB 1004 by Rep. Ray; Requires employers of sex offenders be named and have the businesses’ full address listed on the sex offender registry (On House Judiciary agenda for Tuesday)