2021 Arkansas Legislative Session

Trent Garner
Arkansas Times

As he had promised, and just a few weeks before public schools begin a new year, attorney Tom Mars on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in the Pulaski County Circuit Court seeking a temporary restraining order against a state law that includes a ban on school districts from mandating the use of face masks.

Act 1002 was passed by the Arkansas Legislature earlier this year and signed into law by Gov. Hutchinson. It prohibits statewide or local mandatory face-covering requirements.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A group of Democratic lawmakers in Arkansas, which has the nation’s highest COVID-19 rate, urged the governor and Republicans who control the Legislature on Thursday to lift the state’s ban on schools and government entities requiring people to wear masks.

The lawmakers from Little Rock and surrounding Pulaski County asked Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson to call a special session of the Legislature or for its GOP leaders to reconvene it themselves to consider the repeal.

ACLU of Arkansas

A law that bans transgender Arkansans younger than 18 from accessing transition-related health care, has been blocked from becoming law.

U.S. District Judge Jay Moody issued the ruling Wednesday blocking the enforcement of Act 626, which would have been gone into effect on July 28. The act blocks any transgender child from seeking or accessing health care related to their transition, such as puberty blockers, even with consent from parents or medical professionals.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The deadline for when most laws passed during the 2021 Arkansas Legislative session officially go into effect is fewer than 15 days away. However, some bills are facing legal challenges that could strike them down before become law.

Arkansas Legislature
Sarah Kellogg / KUAR News

Controversial topics drowned out the typical bread-and-butter business of the legislative session, and that played out in public opinion.

A new Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll of 535 Arkansas voters finds the 93rd General Assembly with only a 32% approval rating, while 45% disapproved of its actions.

Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the job the Arkansas legislature is doing?

32% Approve
45% Disapprove
23% Don’t Know

Election Voters Voting
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas Term Limits and other plaintiffs filed suit Friday in the federal Eastern District of Arkansas to overturn a new state law that limits who can gather signatures for citizen-led constitutional amendments and other initiatives.

Act 951 by Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, and Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne, limits paid petitioners to state residents, which Arkansas Term Limits said in a press release is not required for any other political job or for petitions used to gather signatures for candidates to run. It passed with an emergency measure.

flickr.com

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit Tuesday against the state of Arkansas over a newly passed law that prohibits health care professionals from providing gender-transition procedures to individuals under age 18.

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court Eastern District against Act 626 was filed on behalf of four transgender youth and their families along with two doctors. It alleges the law violates the U.S. Constitution.

The American Civil Liberties Union is planning lawsuits against two recent laws passed by Arkansas legislators banning abortions and gender affirming medical procedures, while other laws could draw legal challenges from that group and others.

The ACLU will sue in Arkansas’ Eastern District U.S. District Court to block those two laws, said Holly Dickson, ACLU executive director.

“We’ll be filing before the bills go into effect asking that those laws never go into effect,” she said.

University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Criminal Justice and Criminology Director Dr. Tusty Ten Bensel and Graduate Coordinator Dr. Robert Lytle will oversee the study of hate crimes against Muslims in Arkansas.
Zoom

The National Science Foundation is funding a three-year program to study hate crimes committed against Muslims in Arkansas. Two criminal justice professors at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock have been awarded a $324,987 grant, which will enable an assessment of anti-Muslim sentiments.

Arkansas Cinema Society

A new Arkansas law passed by the legislature with little dissent and signed by the governor in April creates a new tax incentive for the film industry in Arkansas.

KUAR spoke with Kathryn Tucker, executive director of the Arkansas Cinema Society and Christina McLarty Arquette, producer and board member of the Arkansas Cinema Society about the new credit and how they hope it will bring more film projects to the Natural State. Below is a transcript of the aired conversation.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The 2021 session of the Arkansas General Assembly adjourned last week. Lawmakers will return in the fall to consider redistricting and any unfinished business.

The session included debate on many cultural issues as well as a power struggle between Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the Republican-controlled House and Senate on matters like executive orders for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Asa Hutchinson signs an executive order Thursday creating the Arkansas School Safety Commission.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday that he’ll sign a bill that would bar state and local law officers from helping enforce new and future federal gun restrictions — a move critics say would be unconstitutional and create confusion about which gun limits the state does recognize.

Arkansas House

In the last moments of the 2021 Arkansas General Legislative Session, which ended early Tuesday after 1 a.m., the legislature managed to pass a bill that bans police from enforcing some federal gun laws, but addresses problems previously brought up on a similar bill that was vetoed by the governor. 

House Bill 1957, filed late Monday night, made its way through the legislature in fewer than 28 hours through a series of committee meetings, recesses and votes.

Arkansas House

A bill that would have eliminated early voting on the day before an Election Day in Arkansas failed in the state House of Representatives on Tuesday, the final full day of the legislative session.

The chamber ultimately did not pass Senate Bill 485, with 39 representatives  voting for it and 43 members voting against it. The bill would have eliminated early voting on the day before either a primary or general election. 

Arkansas Senate

A bill that could have allowed public and open enrollment charter schools to place limitations on teaching certain aspects about racism failed in a Senate committee on Monday.

By a vote of 4-3, the Senate Education Committee did not get the five votes needed to advance House Bill 1761.

A bill that would have allowed the Arkansas General Assembly to amend voter-approved constitutional amendments by a two-thirds vote of each chamber failed in the Senate on Monday.

Arkansas Senate

It’s now up to the Arkansas House to consider overriding a veto of a bill that would prohibit local police from enforcing federal gun laws in Arkansas. The Senate voted 21-12 Monday to override Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of Senate Bill 298.

Arkansas Senate

A bill that would have replaced the state’s existing Confederate Flag Day with a newly-created Arkansas Day failed in a Senate committee Monday.

House Bill 1916 fell one vote short of the needed five in the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee to advance to the full Senate. Members voted 4-3 for it, with one member not voting. 

Arkansas Legislature

A bill that would do away with early voting on the Monday before an Election Day has passed out of committee after failing in the same committee earlier in the day.

Following numerous attempts at passage, members of the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committee voted 11 to 4 to pass Senate Bill 485 in a meeting Monday afternoon. The vote came after the same committee failed to pass the bill earlier in the day. 

Asa Hutchinson governor
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed SB 298, the Arkansas Sovereignty Act of 2021, over concerns it would hinder local and state law enforcement cooperation with federal law enforcement entities. It is Hutchinson’s third veto of the session.

“The partnership between state and local law enforcement officers is essential for the safety of Arkansas citizens. This bill will break that partnership and put the safety of Arkansans at risk,” the governor said.

Arkansas House

A bill that would establish statewide minimum housing standards is one step closer to going to the governor, after passing the Arkansas House on Thursday.

By a vote of 89-0, with one member voting present, representatives passed Senate Bill 594.

The legislation establishes minimum housing standards for rented properties that landlords must provide such as an "available source of electricity" and a "functioning" roof.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The leaders of the two legislative chambers and Gov. Asa Hutchinson outlined expectations for the end of the 93rd Arkansas General Assembly, and it should be an unprecedented and lengthy adjournment.

Holding a joint press conference Thursday to review the Revenue Stabilization Act (RSA), which keeps the state’s budget balanced, the trio of leaders explained their plans for completing the session business and taking care of additional matters later this year.

Arkansas House

The Arkansas House has voted to advance a bill that would prohibit public schools, as well as open enrollment charter schools in the state, from teaching certain aspects about racism.

Arkansas Senate

The Arkansas Senate has passed the appropriation for the state Department of Commerce for the 2021-2022 fiscal year after failing it on three previous votes. 

Senators voted 28-2 on Wednesday, gaining one additional vote for the needed 27 to pass it. The Senate failed to pass the appropriation both on Monday and Tuesday. 

Arkansas Senate

A bill that would have prohibited public schools and state-supported higher education institutions in Arkansas from requiring educators refer to students by their preferred names or pronouns failed in a legislative committee on Wednesday. 

The Senate Education Committee, through a voice vote, did not have the support needed to advance House Bill 1749 to the Senate, where if it passed again, would have gone to the governor.   

Arkansas House

A bill that would limit teaching certain ideas concerning racism has passed an Arkansas House committee after going through an amendment process.

Arkansas Senate

A bill that would prohibit entities in Arkansas from requiring proof of a COVID-19 vaccine, also called a "vaccine passport," has passed in the state Senate.

By a vote of 23-8 Tuesday, senators advanced Senate Bill 615. It prohibits the state, a state agency or entity, a political subdivision of the state or any state or local official from requiring an individual produce documentation that they have been vaccinated for COVID-19.

Arkansas Senate

The Arkansas Senate failed to pass appropriations for the Arkansas Department of Commerce's 2021-2022 fiscal year on Monday. Members of the Senate voted 20-8 with five members not voting, which was ultimately not enough to pass Senate Bill 132.

In speaking against the bill,  Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, said he could not vote for any appropriation that would "fund and pay for the head of the Department of Commerce, Sec. Mike Preston."

Legislature Matthew Shepherd
Sarah Kellogg / KUAR News

Should the Arkansas Legislature have the power to call itself into an extraordinary session?

The Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee on Monday (April 19) passed SJR 10, a proposed change to the state constitution for voter consideration. The resolution could be one of three proposals that legislators refer to voters for the 2022 general election.

Arkansas House

A bill that establishes statewide minimum housing standards for rented properties in Arkansas is one vote away from going to the governor’s desk.

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