What happened in the Legislature last week?
Week 2 Edition
The second week of the Arkansas legislature was best summed up by Rep. David Ray’s comment on the House floor: “Everyone seems to be feeling feisty today.”
We saw an inordinate number of bills fail and some clear indications that rubber stamps may be in limited supply this session.
Here’s a quick wrap up of what happened with all the bills in Week 2:
Both bills to make Daylight Saving Time permanent are kaput. Rep. Rye’s HB 1039 was sent to interim study. And Rep. Scott Richardson’s HB 1104 was voted down by his colleagues. Concerns were two-fold: one, that some folks prefer Standard Time; and two, that taking this action isn’t even allowed by the federal government at this time.
A bill by Rep. Watson (HB 1014) to allow online training for coroners and prohibit felons from serving as coroners passed out of committee but failed on the House floor, mostly due to a speech from Rep. Richmond.
His argument was that it’s already hard enough for people convicted of felonies to find work, particularly those who had lower-level offenses from the distant past.
He had a stroke of conscience, however, after the vote and made a motion to expunge the failed vote. (That erases the vote.)
“There was a lot of good in that bill. I feel responsible for killing it. Usually I take pleasure in that. Because this did have good in it, I’d like to be able to reconsider…a better bill that we can all get on board with.” - Rep. Richmond
The bill was re-referred back to committee to be amended.
Newcomer Rep. Andrews’ bill (HB 1067) prohibiting cities from having residency requirements for full-time firefighters failed in committee. The bill exempted volunteer fire departments.
The ‘why’ behind the bill: Some cities in the past have had this requirement and it kept firefighters from being able to live in smaller communities and assist with their volunteer fire departments on off-time.
The pushback: No cities currently have this requirement, so it’s not currently applicable. It also takes away local control on the issue, which was a concern voiced by Rep. Dalby and others.
A bill banning TikTok from state-owned devices (SB 4 by Sen. Stubblefield) failed in Senate committee. It engendered a wide-ranging discussion among the senators, all of whom said they aren’t pro-TikTok but had issues with the language or necessity of the bill. The committee chair asked Sen. Stubblefield to pull it down and work on it more, but the senator refused and it failed for lack of a motion. Concerns were:
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has already basically accomplished this through executive order.
The bill was very specific in naming TikTok and the company that owns it, leaving little flexibility if the company sells or changes its name.
Some state agencies like DHS or the State Police use TikTok to investigate child abuse or welfare cases and for other necessary purposes.
Penalties or enforcement of violations of the law were not specified.
HB 1087 by Rep. Mark Berry would have created additional fines for people who were caught speeding 25 mph or more over the speed limit ($250 to $1,000)
The “why”: Rep. Berry said the number of citations for people going more than 100 mph has tripled since 2018 (more than 11,000 total).
The pushback: There was concern that the fines were too high and might actually deter police from writing tickets. Rep. Tosh also noted there’s already a reckless driving offense that could be used in those cases.
Rep. Tosh said some police officers, when they pull over a speeder, may realize they’re costing that person a month’s rent or groceries for their kids and be hesitant to ticket them.
Another bill from Rep. Mark Berry, HB 1088, failed that would have added prosecutors to the list of people covered by an offense of threatening a judicial officer.
Defense attorneys spoke against the bill, saying it could chill conversations between prosecutors and attorneys.
Passed the House
HB 1023 by Rep. Fortner: Requires flags purchased with state funds be made in the US
HB 1090 by Rep. Watson: Separates the offices of sheriff and collector in Hempstead County
HB 1100 by Rep. Collins: Allows urban service districts (Cammack Village) to provide street and drainage services
HB 1024 by Rep. Ray: Allows cities without an A&P tax to have entertainment districts
HB 1028 by Rep. Charlene Fite: Makes child sexual abuse terms more applicable to prosecution
HB 1086 by Rep. Mark Berry: Disallows those with disabled veterans tags from parking in handicapped spots by default (they’d have to get a hang tag like everyone else)
HB 1018 by Rep. Meeks: Allows fire department bomb squad members to make arrests and carry concealed weapons. (There was a motion on the floor to re-refer this bill to committee and work on it more. It failed on a voice vote.)
Passed House Committees (to House floor Monday)
HB 1145 by Rep. Scott: Creating Lupus Day
HB 1082 by Rep. Pilkington: Makes it easier for occupational therapists to come to work in Arkansas through a compact
HB 1155 by Rep. Bentley: Requires that home childcare facilities be recognized as residential properties for the purposes of zoning (meaning they don’t require a commercial kitchen, sprinklers, etc. - for up to 5 children)
HB 1137 by Rep. Cavenaugh: Allows cities to burn vegetation (tree limbs, etc. This one was controversial and the ADEQ was against.)
HB 1098 by Rep. Mayberry: Allows volunteer fire departments to install newborn safety devices under certain circumstances
HB 1123 by Rep. Vaught: Allows people who have voluntarily sought in-patient mental health treatment to get a concealed carry permit under certain circumstances
HB 1150 by Rep. Cavenaugh: Extends from 30 to 60 days the amount of time a new Arkansas resident has to license their vehicle
HB 1101 by Rep. Collins: Lowers the threshold of service-connected disability for a veteran to quality for a disabled veterans license plate
HB 1017 by Rep. Mark Berry: Allows school employees to take leave for emergency services training or assistance
HB 1022 by Rep. Vaught: Reverts the public school calendar to the schedule prior to the 2021 legislative session changes
Passed Senate Committee (to Senate floor Monday)
SB 43 by Sen. Stubblefield: Adds drag performances to “adult oriented” businesses in Arkansas code and limits where they can be performed (controversial in public testimony but not within the committee discussion)
There was extensive public testimony against the bill, with one speaker for the bill.
The bill could be interpreted to ban transgender participation in gay pride parades or dancing / singing just about anywhere.
Committee members, in rebuttal to public testimony, focused heavily on a requirement that the performance be ‘prurient’ in nature.
Other stuff worth noting
Attorney General Tim Griffin said he wants to work with legislators to ensure bills are buttoned up before they pass so they require less litigation and therefore less taxpayer dollars on the back end. He also said he intends for the office to be more active in the prosecution of issues uncovered by Legislative Audit.
DHS updated legislators of major efforts to clean the Medicaid rolls. During the Covid health emergency, the state wasn’t allowed to drop anyone regardless of eligibility. That emergency is coming to an end, and they will begin recertifying Medicaid beneficiaries with letters arriving early next month and those no longer eligible being dropped beginning in April.
Anyone dropped can appeal the decision and will be covered during the appeal process.
The governor’s hiring freeze could prove detrimental to the state’s human development centers and other already short-staffed facilities, according to DHS.
There have been a number of bills filed dealing with pregnancy and abortion. As of now, the House Public Health Committee will hear those on Jan. 31.