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Judiciary Committee discusses child support and transit safety

Steps leading up to the Arkansas Senate chamber in the state Capitol.
Michael Hibblen
Little Rock Public Radio
A bill to force parolees to pay child support and another to criminalize assaulting transit employees were discussed in an Arkansas legislative committee meeting Wednesday.

A joint meeting of the Arkansas House and Senate Judiciary committees was held Wednesday to discuss a number of interim study proposals, including ones related to bus driver safety and child support.

Transit Safety

Directors of transit organizations in the state shared stories of assaults against drivers at a the committee meeting.

Joel Gardner, executive director of the Ozark Regional Transit Authority, told lawmakers of one incident where a passenger was asked to leave.

“One of our drivers told the passenger, 'Stop swearing stop using that language,’” he said. “And as the guy walked off the bus, he sucker punched him in the back of the head.”

The conversation comes out of a proposed bill to create harsher penalties for assaulting drivers. Gardner said the current laws “do not have enough teeth.”

Some legislators seemed confused by the proposed bill. Rep. David Ray, R-Maumelle, pointed out the state already has aggravated assault laws that criminalize abusing drivers.

“I guess from a philosophical standpoint why do we need an enhanced penalty for assaults against your employees as opposed to any employees who find themselves at a higher risk of assault?” he asked.

Child Support

The committee also discussed a proposal to require parolees to work with child support services to make sure their financial obligations are still met.

Parolees often go from making virtually no money while incarcerated to having full-time employment, all while still owing regular child support payments. Rep. Lanny Fite, R-Benton, failed to pass a similar bill during the last legislative session after realizing how much it would cost.

“So we did a fiscal impact,” he said. “And when we did the fiscal impact we found out that section 3 possibly violates federal law and it’s about $200,000 of software to update on which to do this.”

Personal testimony was brought forth by Selena Davis. She said it was a struggle to receive child support payments once her ex left prison.

“It has just been an endless chase trying to serve him,” she said. “So there’s a lot of things that go on after the fact that waste a lot of time frankly."

The committee also adopted several interim study proposals, several of which dealt with harsher penalties for sex offenses.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.