Arkansas Legislature

The latest news about the Arkansas Legislature.

Steps leading up the Arkansas Senate chamber.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

An attempt to ban the smoking of medical marijuana fell short in the Arkansas Senate while a bill to ban edibles was deferred. But both measures altering the voter-approved constitutional amendment could come up later this week.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Monday, Republican Jason Rapert of Bigelow said inhaling smoke is not good medicine.

“You mark my word. People will be hurt, they will be injured, and some will die as a result of this loose amendment,” said the senator.

Arkansas Drivers En Route To Digital License

Mar 6, 2017
Sample of Arkansas Driver's License.
Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration

Arkansas drivers may soon have access to a digital driver’s license in addition to a hard copy. The Arkansas Senate advanced a bill on Monday that would create and offer a digital license as an equivalent to the physical license at traffic stops and the like.

Alongside a physical license drivers could pay $10 for a digital copy provided by the Office of Drivers Services.

Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson wants to add a work requirement to Arkansas' hybrid Medicaid expansion and to lower its eligibility cap, which would add new restrictions to the program even as the future of the federal health overhaul remains unclear.

The Republican governor on Monday detailed changes he'll ask the federal government to approve for the program, which uses Medicaid funds to buy private insurance for the poor. More than 300,000 people are on the program that was created in 2013 as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law.

Trent Garner
Arkansas Times

An Arkansas lawmaker sponsoring legislation to allow concealed handguns at colleges is holding off on a compromise proposal that would have included age and training limits to carry on campus.

Republican Sen. Trent Garner said Monday he's deferring a proposal that would have allowed anyone with a concealed handgun 25 and older to carry if they undergo up to 16 hours of active shooter training. Garner said he'll support an alternative bill filed last week that would allow anyone with a license to carry on campus.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and State Senator David Wallace (R-Leachville) presenting the MLK/Lee Day bill in committee.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Martin Luther King Jr. Day would stand alone, separated from Arkansas’s dual observance with Robert E. Lee, under a proposal advanced by a Senate committee. On a voice vote Thursday, legislation passed to move the observance of Lee to October. Governor Asa Hutchinson led the cause to disjoin the Civil Rights leader and Confederate general.

“The fact is celebrating Martin Luther King on the same day as a Confederate general gives Arkansas a sense that you make a choice and this choice diminishes the contributions of Dr. King,” Hutchinson told committee members.

Governor Supports Bill To Split MLK and Lee Days

Mar 2, 2017

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is endorsing a proposal to end the dual recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee on the same day each year.

He took to the lectern Wednesday to say that, as Americans celebrate the slain Civil Rights icon, residents of the state are presented with a choice.

“That choice that is there, it divides us as Arkansans and as a nation,” Hutchinson said.

Steps leading up the Arkansas Senate chamber.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

An Arkansas Senate committee has advanced bills to change the medical marijuana law approved by voters in November by banning smoking medical marijuana and the selling of food or drinks containing the drug, but an effort to halt the start of the program until the drug is legalized nationwide failed.

The Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor on Wednesday endorsed and sent to the full Senate bills banning the smoking, eating or drinking of marijuana, but allowing a patient or designated caregiver to incorporate marijuana into food or drink for medicinal use.

Arkansas voters will be asked next year to limit damages awarded in civil lawsuits, cap attorneys' fees and give the Legislature power to write court rules under a measure given final approval by lawmakers.

The Senate approved by a 20-11 vote on Wednesday a resolution to put the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot next year. The measure, if approved by voters would place a $500,000 limit on punitive and non-economic damages awarded in civil lawsuits, and limit attorneys' contingency fees to 33.3 percent of the net amount recovered.

Arkansas State Capitol
Chris Hickey / KUAR News

A bill that would freeze enrollment in Arkansas' hybrid Medicaid expansion program has advanced out of a state House committee.

Republican state Rep. Josh Miller's proposal would require the state to ask federal officials for permission to end enrollment. The bill calls for new enrollment to end as of July 1, 2017.

The proposal now heads to the full House.

Miller says more people have enrolled than anticipated and lawmakers have expressed concern about the program's costs amid uncertainty about the fate of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Altus Arkansas is home to several Arkansas wineries.
wikimedia

A bill to open-up the sale of wine in Arkansas grocery stores to all producers, rather just small vineyards, fell three votes short in the Arkansas House. Liquor store owners lined the House gallery on Monday, opposed to the bill which would open up competition. State Representative Gary Deffenbaugh of Van Buren spoke against the bill. The Republican worried that retailers like WalMart would shut down local stores.

Outside the Arkansas House chamber in the state Capitol building.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

The Arkansas House has voted to place on the ballot a proposed state constitutional amendment that would ask voters to limit some attorney's fees and punitive damages in lawsuits.

The House voted 66-30 Monday for the joint resolution and sent it back to the state Senate to consider a House amendment. A previous version of the proposal passed the Senate earlier.

Supporters say the proposal would reduce legal judgments against health care providers, which they say would lead to a decrease in medical malpractice insurance rates.

State Rep. John Payton (R-Wilburn) sponsoring legislation to limit workers compensation benefits.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Arkansas workers injured on the job and the families of workers killed on site are facing the prospect of an eight year, eight month limit on workers compensation benefits. The Arkansas House barely passed the bill to restrict benefits with the needed supermajority on Monday. It follows a 2016 law ending the state’s contribution to a compensation fund assisting employers and their insurance pay claims.

State Representative Charlie Collins argued it had to be done to help business interests, who help pay for the benefit.

Voter ID Vote photo ID
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The Arkansas House has passed a resolution that, if approved by voters, would require residents to present photographic identification in order to vote.

A proposed constitutional amendment by Republican Rep. Robin Lundstrum would also require the state to issue IDs at no charge to eligible voters if they don't already have one.

Lundstrum says the measure approved by the House on Thursday will help ensure voter security at the ballot.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

The Arkansas Senate is expected to take up a bill Thursday that attempts to resolve problems with the state’s criminal justice system. The proposal has been controversial, requiring many revisions as lawmakers have worked with prosecutors, judges and prison officials.

The goal is to resolve problems that led to Arkansas in recent years having the fastest-growing prison population in the country, according to the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

University of Central Arkansas.
www.uca.edu

An Arkansas Senate committee has advanced legislation that would allow people 25 and older to carry a concealed handgun on a college campus if they undergo certain training.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday endorsed and sent to the full Senate the revised bill that requires colleges and universities to allow concealed handguns on campus.

A statue of Baphomet as a goat-headed figure flanked by two children could appear alongside the 10 Commandments at the state Capitol.
KFOR

A legal showdown could be brewing over whether a satanic monument should be allowed on the grounds of the Arkansas state Capitol.

Legislation now heads to the desk of Gov. Asa Hutchinson after the state Senate gave final approval Tuesday to the bill that would require any monuments to first be approved by the legislature before going to the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission. Current law allows proposals to come through either entity, though they ultimately need legislative authorization.

State Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Elm Springs) presenting her bill in the House Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee.
arkansashouse.org

A drug testing program for Arkansans seeking help from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF, is one step closer to becoming law. A House committee on Tuesday passed the bill to extend a two year trial run indefinitely.

The latest in a series of bills to exempt security details from the Freedom of Information Act has been filed in the Arkansas Legislature. Keeping information about the Governor’s Mansion secret from the public is the objective of Republican State Representative DeAnne Vaught of Horatio in southwest Arkansas.

marijuana
npr.org

In a new survey, Arkansas voters made it clear they prefer the implementation of medical marijuana to allow for smoking cannabis and not waiting for federal law to allow for statewide usage.

A new Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College poll asked 440 Arkansas voters for their preferences on two debates occurring at the state legislature regarding medical marijuana’s implementation. Voters approved the measure last November by a 53-47% margin. In the latest survey conducted Tuesday, Feb. 14, voters were asked:

Arkansas Department of Education Building in Little Rock near the state Capitol building.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

A bill to open-up membership in the public charter school authorizing panel to anyone in the public – without requirement – sailed through the Arkansas Senate on Monday. Currently the panel that makes recommendations on whether charter schools should open, close, or expand is made up of Department of Education employees.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren said establishing criteria for holding the posts is a burden on the state.

File photo. State. Senator Jason Rapert (R-Bigelow) with former State Representative Anne Clemmer testifying to a committee in 2013.
Nathan Vandiver / KUAR

A push to call for a convention of the states to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution to redefine marriage and abortion rights narrowly failed in the Arkansas Senate. Article V of the U.S. Constitution allows for states to join together to propose amendments. It’s never been used before, but speaking on the floor on Monday state Senator Jason Rapert said it’s the only tool he has left.

Rapert proposed two separate resolutions. The first would redefine marriage as between one man and one woman. The second would say life begins at conception and effectively ban abortion.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A compromise struck between Gov. Asa Hutchinson and lawmakers would expand a plan allowing concealed handguns on college campuses to include some students and visitors, if they undergo training.

Supporters of the campus guns measure, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Hutchinson's office said Monday they support an amendment to legislation requiring colleges and universities to allow concealed handguns.

Governor Asa Hutchinson signed bill dinosaur
Governor's Office

It's a designation more than 65 million years in the making.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday signed a resolution designating the Arkansaurus fridayi as the state's official dinosaur. The move makes Arkansas the 10th state to have its own official dinosaur.

The dinosaur was first discovered in a gravel pit near Lockesburg in 1972 by Joe Friday, for whom it was named.

State Rep. Greg Leding proposed designating it as the state's official dinosaur at the encouragement of Mason Cypress Oury, a high school student in his district.

The Arkansas Senate voted Thursday to require college and university employees who want to carry concealed handguns on campus to first undergo additional training, prompting a Republican lawmaker to expand the campus-carry proposal to allow some students and visitors to participate.

The Senate voted 22-10 to add a provision mandating 16 hours of active shooter training to a House-backed measure requiring the schools to allow faculty and staff with a license to carry a concealed firearm on campus. The Senate is expected to vote next week on the proposal. 

Gretchen Hall Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A proposed bathroom bill filed in the Arkansas Legislature targeting transgender people is raising the concern of the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau.

SB346 doesn’t offer any specifics at this point and is essentially a shell bill, but Republican Senator Gary Stubblefield told the Associated Press it would require people to use public bathrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate.

Charlie Collins
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

With very little discussion, the Arkansas House of Representatives approved a bill that bans abortions based solely on whether a woman wants to give birth to a boy or a girl.

The "sex-selection" bill – which opponents say is unconstitutional – was approved Tuesday by a vote of 79-3, with 6 Democrats voting present. It now heads to the Senate.

Rep. Charlie Collins, a Republican of Fayetteville, was the bill’s sponsor and called it the "right thing to do."

Revenue and taxation committee
www.arkansashouse.org

An effort to collect sales taxes in Arkansas from online retailers has been rejected by a House committee. For more than an hour Tuesday, members of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee heard arguments for and against the bill, which was passed last week by the Senate.

Curtis Ferguson, owner of Ferguson Furniture in Benton, argued that not requiring online companies to charge a sales tax gives them an unfair advantage.

Arkansas lawmakers have given their final approval for a monument at the state Capitol in honor of families who have lost loved ones serving in the armed forces.

The House on Monday voted 96-0 for what's called the Gold Star Family Memorial Monument on the state Capitol grounds. The bill has passed the Senate and now heads to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's desk.

The design and placement of the proposed monument is pending before the state Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission.

The Arkansas House has approved a measure requiring the state to suspend or revoke the license of abortion providers for any rule or law violation, a move that opponents say unfairly targets abortion providers.

The House on Monday approved by a 77-8 vote a bill aimed at stiffening regulations for the state's abortion facilities. The measure now heads to the majority-GOP Senate.

File photo. Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) speaking to the Political Animals Club at the Governor's Mansion in Little Rock.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

This week the Arkansas Legislature pushed forward a bill to collect sales taxes on out of state, online purchases. Some retailers, like Amazon, say they support the move and will preemptively start collecting taxes in March.

Governor Asa Hutchinson is roundly praising Amazon’s announcement that the Seattle-based company wants sales tax be collected for online retailers and will voluntarily help collect them. In a statement, the Republican said the company’s decision is “laudable and good news for the state.”

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