Arkansas Legislature

The latest news about the Arkansas Legislature.

Jason Rapert Ten 10 Commandments
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A federal judge is temporarily restricting who can see the video deposition of a legislator who sponsored a measure requiring a Ten Commandments statue at the Arkansas Capitol in a lawsuit challenging the monument.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a temporary order Wednesday preventing additional copies of state Sen. Jason Rapert's deposition from being made or distributed. An attorney for Rapert, a Republican who sponsored the 2015 law requiring the privately funded monument, had asked that the video only be available to attorneys in the case.

Rep. Mickey Gates
www.arkansashouse.org

Arkansas Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd on Friday said he is taking the rare action to remove a colleague from a House seat.

Shepherd, R-El Dorado, wrote a letter to House members explaining that he intends to put forth a resolution calling for the “immediate removal” of Rep. Mickey Gates, R-Hot Springs, from the chamber. Gates pleaded last month no contest to not paying state income taxes and worked out an agreement to pay part of what he owed.

Rita Sklar ACLU American Civil Liberties Union
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas is retiring after nearly three decades heading the group.

The ACLU of Arkansas on Monday announced the retirement of Rita Sklar, who has served as the organization's executive director since 1992. The group said Holly Dickson, its legal director, will serve as interim director and a national search will be announced soon.

Jeremy Hutchinson
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

A former Arkansas lawmaker who is the governor's nephew has admitted to accepting thousands of dollars in bribes to help a health nonprofit as part of a plea deal in a sprawling federal corruption investigation.

Linda Collins-Smith
Arkansas Legislature

A new judge has been named to handle the case surrounding the killing of a former Arkansas lawmaker who was found dead outside her home.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Dan Kemp on Thursday named retired Circuit Judge David Goodson to preside over the case involving the killing of former Sen. Linda Collins. Judge Harold Erwin had been presiding over the case and the order said he requested the reassignment but doesn't say why.

naloxone
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Amid an epidemic of opioid deaths, Arkansas school nurses are being equipped with an antidote that can reverse overdoses. During a ceremony Tuesday at the state Capitol, Gov. Asa Hutchinson presented several nurses with naloxone kits, saying they will provide an "important lifesaving capability for our schools."

Rebecca Becky Lynn O'Donnell being escorted into the Randolph County Courthouse Monday where she was formally charged with capital murder in the death of former Arkansas state Sen. Linda Collins.
KAIT-TV / Twitter

An Arkansas woman has been charged with capital murder in the killing of a former state senator whose body was found outside her own home.

A state judge also found probable cause Monday to charge 48-year-old Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell with abuse of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence, Jonesboro television station KAIT reported . The judge did not set bond for O'Donnell, who was arrested Friday in former Sen. Linda Collins' death.

Authorities haven't said how Collins was killed.

Former Arkansas state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson arriving in court Tuesday for a pre-trial hearing in his corruption case.
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

A former health care executive has admitted to taking part in a conspiracy to bribe a former Arkansas lawmaker who is also the governor's nephew.

Robin Raveendran pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.

The 63-year-old former executive vice president of Preferred Family Healthcare says he and others bribed former Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson in exchange for the lawmaker backing legislative actions that benefit Preferred Family.

An attorney for Hutchinson declined to comment.

Sarah Kellogg - KUAR News / KUAR

Weeks after the Arkansas state legislature officially adjourned, its leaders are pleased with the work it accomplished during its almost 90 days of session. During a meeting of the Political Animals Club on Wednesday, Senate President Pro Tempore Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, called this past session the "most productive one that I’ve been a part of."

Legislature Matthew Shepherd
Sarah Kellogg / KUAR News

After 88 days in session, the Arkansas legislature officially adjourned sine die on Wednesday. Session unofficially ended two weeks prior on April 10. Wednesday’s meeting was scheduled for any possible last minute bill changes or to override any vetoes. However, no bills were vetoed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson this year, and no other business was scheduled in the House.

Asa Hutchinson signing bills
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

All bills passed during the 2019 session of the Arkansas General Assembly have been signed into law. Gov. Asa Hutchinson did not veto any bills this year. He signed the final pieces of legislation Wednesday afternoon alongside several lawmakers.

A formal adjournment is set to take place next Wednesday when lawmakers return to the Capitol for Sine Die. In some previous years, that has been when senators and representatives have had to consider whether to attempt to override gubernatorial vetoes, something that won’t be necessary this time.

Sarah Kellogg / KUAR

The Arkansas House has passed legislation that prohibits state municipalities from adopting "sanctuary policies." Legislators voted 71-24 on Wednesday, the final day of the 2019 session. The vote comes one day after the House City, County and Local Affairs Committee passed the bill and two days after the same committee failed to advance it.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, surrounded by legislative leaders, signs one of three tax reform bills into law Tuesday.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a package of tax cut bills into law Tuesday saying all Arkansans will benefit from the changes. Tax reform was a key priority for the governor during this year’s session of the Arkansas General Assembly.

Included in the legislation is a requirement that, beginning July 1, will require large out-of-state online retailers like Amazon to collect sales and use taxes from in-state buyers.

Sarah Kellogg / KUAR

Arkansas’s budget for the next fiscal year is a few steps away from passing. The Arkansas House passed two budget bills on Tuesday. The first bill, HB1865 establishes a total of $54 million for the state’s rainy day fund. It also allows for additional funding to be available for state agencies and other purposes. Also, up to $30 million would be set aside for the governor’s office to approve.

Rep. Lane Jean, R- co-chair of the Joint Budget committee, R-Magnolia, outlined some of the allocations the bill establishes.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Bills outlining Arkansas' proposed $5.7 billion budget for the coming year are heading toward their first votes in the state Legislature.

The Joint Budget Committee on Monday approved the proposed Revenue Stabilization Act, which calls for increasing state spending by $124 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1. The House and Senate are expected to vote on identical versions of the legislation on Tuesday. Lawmakers hope to wrap up this year's legislative session by Wednesday.

Private school voucher
Arkansas Legislature

Legislation that would create a tax credit allowing up to $3 million a year to cover the tuition of hundreds of students at private schools across Arkansas failed to advance Thursday in a House committee. After extensive debate, members of the House Education Committee voted 11-7 against SB539 which passed last week in the Senate.

Sarah Kellogg / KUAR News

 

A bill that would lower the charge for possessing one ounce or less of marijuana to a penalty instead of a misdemeanor in Arkansas failed to advance in committee in favor of studying it more. Rep. Charles Blake, D-Little Rock, pulled his bill on Thursday in response to the House Judiciary Committee’s request to research it more as opposed to passing it.

Medicaid Asa Hutchinson Mathew Shephard Jim Hendren
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

In a marginless vote of 75-18, the Arkansas House on Tuesday approved the $8.1 billion appropriations for the state’s Medicaid expansion program and other state Department of Human Services priorities only days after soundly rejecting the same measure.

All state budget bills must be approved by both the House and Senate by a three-fourths vote, meaning the 75 votes for Senate Bill 99 left no room for error. Last week, House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, predicted that the 100-member lower chamber would back the DHS-Medicaid biennial budget.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas lawmakers have sent the governor a measure imposing a new requirement on doctors who perform abortions over the objections of medical groups that call the move unnecessary.

The House on Thursday voted 70-15 in favor of the proposal, which would require doctors who perform abortions to be board-certified or board-eligible in obstetrics and gynecology. The measure now heads to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's desk.

Medical groups have called the requirement unnecessary. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says it opposes such restrictions.

Arkansas House Speaker Matthew Shephard, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Senate President Pro Tempore Jim Hendren speaking to reporters Thursday offering reaction to the ruling by U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg. Hutchinson says he is asking federal officia
Michael Hiblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is urging the Trump administration to pursue an expedited appeal of a U.S. district judge’s decision nullifying the Arkansas Works work requirement, while the Speaker of the House expects that body to vote in favor of funding the agency that administers the program on Friday.

The news came at a press conference Wednesday led by Hutchinson along with Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, and Senate President Pro Tempore Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs.

Sarah Kellogg / KUAR News

An Arkansas House committee has advanced a bill that would increase the penalty for robocalls and makes the act of spoofing a phone number illegal in the state. Current law charges someone behind a robocall with a Class B misdemeanor. Under the proposed legislation, both robocalls and spoofing would be a Class D felony.

The House Insurance and Commerce Committee heard the Senate bill on Wednesday. The legislation defines spoofing as "the predominant means by which a robocaller protects their identities and entices customers to answer the telephone."

Johnny Cash Daisy Bates
Library of Congress/ National Park Service

Arkansas is moving closer toward replacing its statutes at the U.S. Capitol with ones depicting civil rights leader Daisy Bates and singer Johnny Cash.

The House approved Tuesday by 71-12 vote legislation to replace the state's statues at the Capitol depicting Uriah Rose and James P. Clarke. Rose was a 19th century attorney and Clarke was a governor and U.S. senator in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The bill now heads to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who plans to sign it into law.

Governor Asa Hutchinson
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is lending his support to legislation that would create a five-year pilot program using state money to cover the cost of sending low-income students to private schools in Pulaski County. It’s called the Capital Promise Scholarship and would provide up to $3.5 million annually from the governor’s discretionary fund to pay the tuition of about 500 children.

Sarah Kellogg / KUAR

Another attempt at changing the symbolism of the Arkansas flag has failed in committee. The House State Agencies and Government Committee voted to not advance the proposed legislation on Wednesday. The bill, sponsored by House Minority Leader Charles Blake, D-Little Rock, would change the designation of the blue star above the state’s name to represent the United States as opposed to the Confederacy. The bottom three starts would represent France, Spain and Native tribes of Arkansas.

Sarah Kellogg / KUAR

Under a proposed bill, minors in Arkansas who are victims of sex trafficking would no longer be charged with prostitution. The House Judiciary Committee passed the legislation on Tuesday.

Rep. Jamie Scott, D-North Little Rock, is the sponsor of the bill. She told the committee she did not know of any opposition to the legislation, and believes this bill is "a step forward with the juvenile diversion that we’re trying to say we’re champions for in the state."

Sarah Kellogg / KUAR News

State lawmakers are proposing a $100 million tax cut for Arkansans making less than $22,200 per year. 

The cut would come from a three-part bill proposed by Senate President Pro Tempore Jim Hendren on Thursday. Hendren said the bill, like last month's $97 million cut for the state's top earners, came about through recommendations by the Arkansas Tax Reform and Relief Legislative Task Force. 

Arkansas Legislature

An Arkansas House committee failed to take action on a bill would allow physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. The proposal would have allowed patients who have a disease verified by the appropriate physician as life ending, the option to seek medication that would kill them.

Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, presented the bill to the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Tuesday. He said it would just give another option of care for patients who are suffering.

Asa Hutchinson highway funding bill
Governor's Office

Arkansas motorists will pay 3 cents more for a gallon of gasoline and 6 cents more for diesel after Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed part of what he called “the largest highway plan in the state’s history” into law Tuesday.

Act 416 by Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, will raise $95 million annually for the state’s highway system. Of that, $58 million will come from the fuel tax increases. Those taxes then can increase by a maximum of one-tenth of one cent per year.

The bill will increase gasoline taxes to 24.5 cents per gallon and diesel taxes to 28.5 cents per gallon.

Arkansas Death Chamber Lethal Injection
Department of Correction

The state Senate on Monday easily approved a bill that would further veil the confidentiality of the lethal drugs used to execute Arkansas inmates on death row.

Under Senate Bill 464 by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, the legislature would give the state Department of Corrections broad powers to conceal the state’s method of capital punishment and ability to acquire the drugs necessary for lethal injection. The bill was approved by a vote of 25-9 strictly along party lines with one lawmaker, Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, voting present.

David Monteith / KUAR News

Arkansas could join 10 other states with refundable bottle deposits as the result of legislation filed Monday in the state legislature. Rep. Vivian Flowers (D-Pine Bluff) is sponsoring the bill to introduce a Container Deposit Law.

The proposal would increase the cost of certain bottles by 6 cents. A refund of 5 cents would be available at certified drop-off locations. Flowers said the program could reduce litter on Arkansas roads, bring recycling to many rural communities that currently have no access, and generate revenue for a variety of state and local organizations.

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