This was a BUSY week at the Arkansas State Capitol. A lot of bills we are following were heard. Despite both chambers breaking for at least a few days next week, keep an eye out on several bills under consideration on Monday and Tuesday.
Below is an overview of bills that Arkansas Advocates either supports or opposes that were filed or that made progress this week, or that are on next week’s legislative calendar. We are monitoring many more bills, listed and frequently updated on our website. More information on AACF’s overall legislative priorities is here.
Updates on some of the bills AACF supports
Progressed: Sen. Alan Clark’s SB 166 passed the Senate on Monday. This bill would allow individuals who may be connected to the child to attend dependency hearings (including delinquency, family in need of services, and dependent-neglect). It is now assigned to the House Committee on Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative & Military Affairs.
Democracy and Voting Rights
Scheduled: Sen. Clarke Tucker’s SB 217 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs at 2:00 PM on Tuesday, March 23. This bill would make several changes to the absentee voting process, including allowing plain language to be used in the absentee ballot application and providing a “cure period” for absentee ballots that were marked as provisional. Voters would have the opportunity to submit missing materials or correct materials and verify they voted the ballot that was received by the county clerk.
Family Economic Security
Progressed: HB 1563, sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, passed the House Committee on Insurance and Commerce on Wednesday. This bill would create minimum standards for rental housing and remedies for tenants whose landlords don’t repair defects that have an effect on health and safety. We expect the bill to be heard by the full House on Monday, March 22.
New Bill: Rep. Lee Johnson filed HB 1759 on Tuesday. The bill would have the Arkansas Department of Human Services submit a Medicaid waiver to provide better coverage to mothers, babies and children in the program. It would automatically provide insurance for mothers covered by Medicaid for first full year after the baby is born. It would ensure that children in the lowest-income brackets of ARKids First would have coverage for a full year before having to renew their coverage. It would also have the state presume eligibility for pregnant women and children who apply for Medicaid and are likely to meet the criteria, providing coverage at least until their applications are complete. It is assigned to the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor.
Scheduled: The House passed HB 1379, sponsored by Rep. Clint Penzo and Sen. Bob Ballinger, on Wednesday. This bill aims to protect the rights of birth mothers during adoption proceedings. Among other things, it would ensure that they can only consent to adoption when the information is translated into their native language. It is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee at 10:30 AM on Monday, March 22.
Progressed: Rep. Megan Godfrey and Sen. Clarke Tucker’s HB 1451 passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday. This bill would allow a public school district to adopt a bilingual program or a dual-immersion program approved by the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education. It is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Education Committee at 2:00 PM on Monday, March 22.
Progressed: On Tuesday, HB 1594, sponsored by Rep. DeAnn Vaught and Sen. Lance Eads, passed the House of Representatives. The bill would allow immigrants with work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status — commonly referred to as DACA — to obtain teaching licenses in Arkansas. It is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Education Committee at 2:00 PM on Monday, March 22.
New Bill: On Monday, Rep. Clint Penzo and Sen. Bart Hester filed HB 1735. This bill would broaden the fields in which immigrants are allowed to work in Arkansas. It would allow any professional or occupational licensing entity to issue licenses to immigrants who qualify and have federal work permits. That includes those with DACA status. It is assigned to the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor.
Passed: HB 1470, sponsored by Rep. Jamie Scott and Sen. Alan Clark, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and passed the full Senate on Thursday. The bill would limit the use of solitary confinement for pregnant women and new mothers in jails, prisons and juvenile facilities. It would prohibit solitary confinement for those women except under limited circumstances, including a substantial risk of imminent serious physical injury. And then, the solitary confinement couldn’t be for more than 30 days. The bill has been returned to the House as passed and should go next to the Governor to be signed into law.
Passed: SB 107, sponsored by Sen. Jane English and Rep. DeAnn Vaught, passed the House Committee on Education on Wednesday and the full House on Thursday. The bill would require that (1) each public high school provide a high-quality computer science class tailored to meet the needs of each participating student and (2) each public high school employ a computer science teacher. The bill will next go to the Governor to be signed into law.
Scheduled: SB 140, sponsored by Sen. Jonathan Dismang, is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Education Committee at 2:00 PM on Monday, March 22. This bill would require school district boards of directors to include in student discipline policies the requirement that a public school administrator or designee request and review information related to adverse childhood experiences that may have impacted the behavior of a public school student before placing that student in an alternative learning environment or levying a an exclusionary disciplinary action against the student. It would also require that every public school implement positive behavioral supports.
Scheduled: SB 160, sponsored by Sen. Bart Hester and Rep. DeAnn Vaught, would require that, beginning in 2022-23, all public school districts include teaching of the Holocaust and its causes. The curriculum must encourage tolerance of diversity “and reverence for human dignity for all citizens in a pluralistic society.” A previous version would have begun the requirement next school year. It is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Education Committee at 2:00 PM on Monday, March 22.
Progressed: Sen. Irvin and Rep. Lee Johnson’s SB 291 passed the House Education Committee on Thursday. The bill defines characteristics and strategies for community schools; defines responsibilities of community school coordinators; defines a community school plan; outlines assistance that the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education may provide to community schools; would give the State Board of Education the authority to require public school districts in need of Level 5 Intensive Support to develop a system of whole-child supports through a community school plan; would allow public school charters to be designated as community schools; and would allow public school charters to include in their plans for academic achievement the implementation of a community school plan. It is on the agenda again for the House Education Committee for 9:30 AM on Monday, March 22.
Progressed: Sen. Missy Irvin and Rep. DeAnn Vaught’s bill, SB 502, passed the Senate Education Committee on Monday and passed the full Senate on Tuesday. The bill would expand the current ban against expulsions and out-of-school suspensions for kids in pre-k through grade 5 to all foster care students and special education students up to grade 12. It is now assigned to the House Education Committee.
Scheduled: HB 1169, sponsored by Rep. David Tollett, would reduce the requirements for voluntary teacher retirement for teachers who taught during the 2020-21 school year. It is scheduled to be heard by the Joint Committee on Public Retirement and Social Security Programs at 8:30 AM on Monday, March 22.
Updates on some of the bills AACF opposes
Progressed: Rep. Justin Gonzales and Sen. Ben Gilmore’s HB 1487 passed the House on Monday. This bill would prevent Arkansans from holding businesses accountable through civil liability claims for COVID-19 cases caused by their business activities or by activities on their premises. It is now with the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Now Law: As of Monday, Rep. Justin Gonzales and Sen. Ben Gilmore’s HB 1488 is now Act 353. This law excludes COVID-19 from workers’ compensation claims even if the employer requires an employee to perform work, in which “within the normal course and scope of the employee’s job performance exposure to coronavirus 2019 … is possible, likely, or certain.”
Democracy and Voting Rights
Scheduled: Sen. Kim Hammer and Rep. Justin Gonzales’ bill, SB 485, would cut early voting short by a day. Currently early voting ends the Monday before the election. This bill would end early voting the Saturday before the election. The bill is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs at 2:00 PM on Tuesday, March 23.
Family and Economic Security
Progressed: SB 295, sponsored by Sen. Scott Flippo and Rep. Robin Lundstrum, passed the Senate on Thursday. This bill would change many aspects of eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) and Medicaid. It would require that recipients update the state more often on changes in their financial status and would have state agencies and commissions share information more often to determine whether recipients have lottery or gambling winnings, whether they’ve gone to prison, or whether their job circumstances have changed. It is now assigned to the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor.
Scheduled: Rep. Spencer Hawks and Sen. Jonathan Dismang filed HB 1769 on Wednesday. This bill is a stripped-down version of a rental housing habitability standard. It does not include a mandate for necessary safety equipment like carbon monoxide detectors and that puts too much of the onus on tenants to seek relief from unsafe living conditions. It is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Insurance and Commerce at 9:30 AM on Monday, March 22.
Passed: HB 1512, filed by Rep. Kendon Underwood and Sen. Bart Hester, passed the Senate on Thursday. This bill would limit the state’s ability to extend SNAP benefits to families who are having trouble meeting the work requirements. Its next stop is the Governor’s office to be signed into law.
Passed: Sen. Ken Hammer and Rep. Brandt Smith’s SB 289, commonly known as the “healthcare conscience bill,” passed the House on Monday. The bill would allow health care providers to refuse treatment to people based on the health care worker’s religious, moral, or ethical beliefs or principles. It will head to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.
Scheduled: HB 1570, sponsored by Rep. Robin Lundstrum and Sen. Alan Clark, would ban gender transition treatment for minors, including hormonal treatment and therapies that are provided now in Arkansas. It is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee at 2:00 PM on Monday, March 22.
New Bill: Sen. Trent Garner filed SB 545 on Tuesday. This legislation would levy a new tax to help fund law enforcement agencies that establish a 287(g) program. Those programs allow local agencies to enforce federal immigration laws, and most Arkansas agencies have declined to participate. The tax would be $5 on every electronic money transfer, or 1 percent of the transfer amount, whichever is greater. It is assigned to the Senate Revenue and Tax Committee.
Progressed: Sen. Bob Ballinger and Rep. Mary Bentley’s SB 389 passed the Senate Education Committee on Monday and passed the full Senate on Tuesday. This bill would require public schools to make available to parents for inspection curricula and other materials related to sex education, sexual orientation, and gender identity. It would allow parents to request that their children be excused from participating in classes or activities related to those topics and to not be penalized for grading purposes for their failure to participate in those classes or activities. The bill is now assigned to the House Committee on Education.
Failed on the House Floor: Rep. Ken Bragg and Sen. Jonathan Dismang’s HB 1371 passed the House Committee on Education on Tuesday but failed on the House floor on Wednesday. This bill aimed to create a new voucher program — the Arkansas Child Academic Opportunity Scholarship Grant Program — to pay for scholarships to K-12 private schools; expand student eligibility for private school voucher beyond the current Succeed Scholarship Program to include students up to 200 percent of poverty; allow voucher funds to be used to reimburse public school districts that provide services to students receiving private school vouchers at an amount up to 1/6 of the state foundation funding that the public school district would have received for each course the student is enrolled; create an income tax credit program for taxpayers who contribute to private school voucher program with a total income credit cap of $10 million; require that the $10 million cap on income tax credits be automatically increased by 25 percent the following year if credits claimed exceed 90 percent or more of the cap; and require future 25 percent increases in the income tax credit cap if credits claimed are 90 percent or more of the new cap. We will continue to monitor the bill, as the sponsor could bring the bill back for another vote before the session ends.
New Bill: Rep. Mary Bentley and Sen. Gary Stubblefield filed HB 1749 on Tuesday. This bill would require that school employees only address students by the name and sex designated on their birth certificates. It is assigned to the House Committee on Education.
New Bill: On Tuesday Rep. Mark Lowery filed HB 1761. This bill would prohibit public schools from teaching or providing materials that say that “any race or ethnicity should feel guilt or shame” or that “any race or ethnicity should be blamed for societal problems.” It also calls for the state to create a process for public schools to allow parents to review curricula and a system for complaints to be filed.