As the Arkansas General Assembly finishes its third week, House Speaker Matthew Shepherd says some deadlines have already passed or are approaching which will limit what bills lawmakers can file for consideration.
According to Shepherd, 334 House bills have been filed so far, while the Senate has filed 236. This past Monday was the deadline for filing “scope of practice" bills. February 10 is the deadline for any bills that would propose an amendment to Arkansas’ constitution.
Before the session began, Shepherd said he expected “scope of practice” bills to be one category of legislation that could be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking with reporters, he said some telemedicine bills, as well as legislation concerning nurse practitioners, have probably been influenced by the virus.
"With that legislation or any other piece of legislation, undoubtedly there’s going to be a lot of discussion and debate in the public health committee as they begin the process of working through those scope of practice bills," Shepherd said.
As far as bills concerning constitutional changes, Shepherd said an amendment on tort reform could possibly be one of the three amendments the legislature gets to refer to voters in the next General Election.
On Thursday, the Arkansas House, with a vote of 93 ayes and one voting present, advanced House Bill 1202 to the Senate. The bill would require all Arkansas counties to publish online sample ballots before an election.
Rep. Andrew Collins, D-Little Rock, the bill’s sponsor, explained the bill to fellow House members, saying most counties already do this, but not all.
"The goals are transparency, especially important when it comes to elections, voter education, voter empowerment, and helping to modernize government. People are increasingly expecting things like this to be online and we can serve the public in an important way," Collins said.
The House also voted 75-10, with six voting present, to advance House Bill 1211, which would prohibit the shutting down of “religious organizations” during an emergency.
Also on Thursday, Senators voted 35-0 to pass House Bill 1059, which creates two new treatment specialty court programs as well as allows a participant to transfer to a new specialty court program in a different Arkansas County.
That bill, having passed both chambers, now heads to Governor Asa Hutchinson to be signed into law.