Arkansas Legislature

The latest news about the Arkansas Legislature.

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

The American Civil Liberties Union is asking a federal judge to halt a new Arkansas anti-loitering law that it says unconstitutionally targets panhandlers and that the restrictions pose the same problems as a ban on begging that was struck down last year.

The Arkansas Supreme Court has rejected an effort to make it easier to challenge proposed constitutional amendments placed on the ballot by the Legislature.

Justices on Thursday rejected an attorney's request to change court rules to allow challenges to be filed directly with the state Supreme Court over proposed amendments referred to voters by the Legislature. The proposal would have also required the same standard on ballot measures initiated by voters to be used on legislatively referred ones.

Ten 10 Commandments
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A prosecutor says he plans to charge a man accused of crashing his vehicle into a Ten Commandments monument outside the Arkansas Capitol with first-degree criminal mischief.

Larry Jegley told The Associated Press Monday that 32-year-old Michael Tate Reed faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the felony charge.

His attorney wasn't immediately available for comment.

Reed was arrested last month after Little Rock police say he intentionally drove into the monument, destroying it less than 24 hours after it was erected.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Arkansans don't need special civil rights protections, according to the Arkansas legislature and governor. Act 137 of 2015 bars cities and counties from passing ordinances that "create protected classification or prohibits discrimination" on anyone not covered by the state's existing civil rights codes.

Arkansas's Civil Rights Act bans discrimination on the basis of race, religion and other classifications — but not sexual orientation or gender identity. And because several state anti-bullying and domestic violence statutes offer LGBTQ Arkansans protection, opponents say local codes are redundant — codes such as Fayetteville's Ordinance 5781 that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  

State Act 137 also ensures that “businesses, organizations and employers doing business in the state are subject to uniform nondiscrimination laws and obligations.”

But Act 137 has come under judicial scrutiny.

The base of the 10 Commandments monument was installed earlier this month.
Wesley Brown / Talk Business & Politics

A tablet containing the Ten Commandments is being installed this morning on the grounds of the Arkansas Capitol building. Lawsuits have been promised from several entities contending the monument amounts to a state preference or endorsement of particular religious beliefs. The state Legislature approved the privately funded monument.

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

Abortion rights groups are asking a federal judge to block several new abortion restrictions in Arkansas, including a ban on a commonly used second-trimester procedure.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit Tuesday to block laws that have yet to take effect but were approved by lawmakers this year.

One Capitol Mall has houses the Joint Budget Committee.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

The Arkansas Legislative Council executive committee gave permission on Thursday (June 15) for the Bureau of Legislative Research to hire outside legal counsel, a move designed to help the legislative research group cope with requests from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and possibly other investigatory agencies.

Talk Business & Politics reports.

Report Finds More Than One In Four Arkansas Kids Live In Poverty

Jun 13, 2017
Rich Huddleston Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families
Arkansas Business

Arkansas has much work to do to raise itself from the bottom of the barrel when it comes to overall child well-being. The Natural State ranked No. 45 out of 50 states in the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count report released Tuesday. The state ranking slipped one notch from a year ago.

Roughly 188,000 Arkansas children are living in poverty. That comes to 27% up from 26% reported a year ago. Nationally the child poverty rate is 21%, slightly better than 22% in the last year’s report.

The base of the 10 Commandments monument was installed earlier this month.
Wesley Brown / Talk Business & Politics

Construction is underway on the foundation of a Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol, setting up a possible legal showdown on the constitutionality of religious monuments on public property.

On May 11, the State Capitol Arts and Ground Commission unanimously approved a proposal to place a Ten Commandments monument on the west side of the State Capitol grounds, in between the Arkansas Supreme Court and offices of the State Department of Education.

marijuana
npr.org

Arkansas officials say they anticipate that between 20,000 and 40,000 people will ask for permission to obtain medical marijuana.

The state Health Department's chief lawyer, Robert Brech, told a joint meeting of the Senate and House Public Health Committee on Monday that running Arkansas' medical marijuana program will cost about $1.5 million over the next year.

Medical marijuana registration cards will cost about $50. Under the proposed rules, an Arkansas driver's license or state ID will be required to obtain one.

On this week's podcast we take a look at what President Trump's first budget proposal could mean for the poor state of Arkansas. Analysis from political scientist Heather Yates of UCA and reaction from the state's Congressional delegation.

The KUAR News crew also takes a look at:

- A new task force on tax policy is off and running in the Arkansas Legislature. Tax cuts for the wealthy is the goal of some but at what cost? Is there a will to pay for it by cutting existing exemptions?

Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren (R-Gravette) was selected as to chair the Tax Reform and Relief Task Force.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR News

Arkansas legislators held the first meeting of a newly formed task force on taxes on Monday and selected its leadership. Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren (R-Gravette) was confirmed as chair.

The Tax Reform and Relief Task Force was formed as part of a compromise last legislative session that helped deliver a $50-million tax cut for low-income Arkansans. Some conservatives had called instead for a $100-million-plus tax cut for the state’s wealthiest earners.

UAMS campus carry guns
Daniel Breen / KUAR News

Ahead of a new law taking effect in September that expands places where people can carry firearms, schools that want to prohibit concealed handguns are working with state police to get exemptions.

Institutions seeking to ban concealed weapons from certain areas and events must send a security plan to be approved by Arkansas State Police.

The plan calls for schools to have enhanced security measures in place should they choose to opt out of the bill. One institution seeking to restrict concealed carry is the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.

Jonathan Dismang
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR News

Arkansas lawmakers are starting the lay groundwork for changes to the tax code in 2018. Members of a task force were announced this month charged with reviewing the state's tax system. The group was formed by legislation that enabled an over $50 million income tax cut in the last legislative session.

KUAR's Jacob Kauffman spoke with State Senator Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy) about the task force's goals and whether another signature, high-dollar income tax cut is a priority.

For lawmakers, caregivers and patients  a solution to the state legislature’s multi-year process of bringing a new type of coordination to a traditional Medicaid population is set to be finalized this summer.

PASSE, or Provider-led Arkansas Shared Savings Entity, will be a new oversight entity made up of nonprofit and for-profit health providers to manage the care of the state’s medically needy Medicaid population. It includes the elderly, developmentally disabled and mentally ill. The deadline for these companies to apply to be in PASSE is June 15, according to the Department of Human Services and the Arkansas Insurance Department.

10 Ten Commandments monument
Wesley Brown / Talk Business & Politics

The State Capitol Arts and Ground Commission on Thursday unanimously approved a proposal to place a Ten Commandments monument on the west side of the State Capitol grounds, setting up a legal showdown on the constitutionality of religious monuments on public property.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Ten Republicans and six Democrats have been named to serve on a legislative task force that will recommend tax cuts before the 2019 session.

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam and Senate President Jonathan Dismang on Monday named their appointees to the Tax Reform and Relief Legislative Task Force, created as part of a $50 million income tax cut plan approved by lawmakers this year.

Governor Asa Hutchinson sign into law Military retirees tax break
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law a plan to scale back the state's hybrid Medicaid expansion that would move 60,000 people off the program and impose a work requirement on some remaining participants.

Hutchinson's office said Thursday he signed into law legislation allowing the state to seek federal approval for the new restrictions to the program, which uses Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. More than 300,000 people are on the program, which was created in 2013 as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law.

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam speaking to reporters after the inauguration of Governor Asa Hutchinson.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

On a 73- 13 vote Wednesday, the Arkansas House of Representatives implemented rules that specify the procedure for removing a public elected official from duty. The measure’s passage came after calls by conservative legislators to impeach Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen.

The judge took part in an anti-death penalty demonstration just a few hours after issuing a ruling last month that temporarily blocked Arkansas’s scheduled executions.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas lawmakers have approved scaling back the state's hybrid Medicaid expansion by moving 60,000 people off the program and requiring some remaining participants to work.

The Senate and House gave final approval to identical measures Wednesday.

The plans will allow state to seek federal approval for the new restrictions to a program that covers more than 300,000 people. The program was created in 2013 as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health overhaul.

Begin Shrinking Expanded Medicaid, Legislature Decides

May 2, 2017

Arkansas's General Assembly has given initial approval to healthcare changes not possible under President Obama. 

The modifications would move about 60,000 out of the subsidized Medicaid expansion that took place after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and under the guidance of Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe. These recipients would become customers in the regular exchange. The changes also include new Medicaid work requirements.  

A final vote is expected Wednesday morning.

The Arkansas House of Representatives chamber.
arkansashouse.org

Arkansas lawmakers have given initial approval to moving 60,000 people off the state's hybrid Medicaid expansion program and to impose a work requirement on its participants.

The House on Tuesday voted 71-23 for the new restrictions by a 71-23, while the Senate approved an identical measure by a 23-9 vote.

Final votes on the bills are expected in both chambers on Wednesday.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson earlier this year proposed the restrictions, which must also be approved by the federal government.

Governor Asa Hutchinson
arkansashouse.org

An Arkansas House committee has advanced Gov. Asa Hutchinson's proposal to make changes to the state's hybrid Medicaid expansion program.

Hutchinson called for a special legislative session for lawmakers to address Medicaid and other issues, including shoring up the state's long-term reserve fund.

More than 300,000 people are covered by Arkansas Works, the program that uses Medicaid money to buy private insurance for low-income residents. Hutchinson wants to move 60,000 people off the program, and put in place a work requirement for eligibility.

The Arkansas House of Representatives chamber.
arkansashouse.org

For the first time in the history of polling from Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College, the Arkansas Legislature received a failing grade from state voters.

The latest survey of 550 Arkansas voters conducted on April 4, 2017, shows that more voters disapproved of the GOP-controlled legislature’s performance by a 12 percentage point margin. Voters were asked:

Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the job the Arkansas Legislature did during its recently completed session?

32% Approve 
44% Disapprove 
24% Don’t Know

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has vetoed a bill that appropriated $850,000 for school districts to pay for panic button alert systems.

Panic button systems are used during emergencies, such as an active shooter situation.

Hutchinson announced his veto Friday, saying it should be up to local school districts to decide whether to pay for the alert systems.

The governor's letter noted that the panic button system was originally presented to lawmakers as a pilot project that school districts would eventually fund.

Protesters in the Street
Chris Hickey / KUAR News

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has vetoed a bill that would have criminalized mass picketing, saying it would restrict free speech.

Hutchinson vetoed the bill on Thursday. It had been passed by both chambers of the Arkansas Legislature.

The measure, sponsored by Republican Sen. Trent Garner, defines mass picketing as people assembling for demonstrations at or near a business, school or private facility.

Arkansas legislators have wrapped up the bulk of their work for the 2017 regular session. They'll come back in early May to tie up loose ends, and it is expected that they'll also have a special session in May to deal with changes in the state Medicaid program.The Legislature on Monday approved a $5.5 billion budget for the state.

The proposed Revenue Stabilization Act, which sets spending priorities based on expected revenue, was approved in the Senate on a 23-0 vote Monday. The House later approved an identical version of the bill by an 87-5 vote.

Arkansas Legislature Defeats Internet Sales Tax Plan

Apr 3, 2017
Outside the Arkansas House chamber in the state Capitol building.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

A beleaguered bid in the Arkansas Legislature to collect sales taxes from online purchases from companies without a physical presence in the state narrowly failed in the House on Monday. Representative Dan Douglas, a Republican from Bentonville, said it didn’t make sense to collect a tax on his blue jeans at a local store but not when he bought them online.

“They’re the same brand of blue jeans, the same style, the same size, used on the same fat body for the same purpose and they didn’t collect sales tax,” said Douglas. “Now is that fair?”

College Football Gets Arkansas To Change Its New Gun Law

Mar 31, 2017

This edition of KUAR's Week In Review podcast tackles the winding down of the legislative session. Lawmakers retread the concealed carry debate and carve out an exception for athletic events, UAMS, and the state hospital despite NRA opposition. The online sales tax finally gets past a committee hurdle and the bathroom bill gets pushed aside for another time as does highway funding.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

On a second try, the Arkansas House of Representatives successfully passed the appropriation for the state Department of Human Services Division of Medical Services. The Division oversees the state’s expanded Medicaid program, which includes the health coverage of more than 300,000 low-income adults.

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