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Arkansas Advocates 2021 Legislative Session Recap, Vol. 11

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Arkansas Advocates 2021 Legislative Session Recap, Vol. 11

We hope everyone enjoyed a slightly slower week, with both chambers on Spring Break recess Wednesday through Friday. Be sure to catch your breath over the weekend, because there are a lot of bills (12 from our list alone) on the schedule for next Monday and Tuesday. Happy Spring!

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

Family Economic Security

Scheduled: HB 1563, sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, is scheduled to be heard by the full house on Monday, March 29. 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.

Health Care

Scheduled: SB 410, sponsored by Sen. Missy Irvin and Rep. Michelle Gray, passed the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor on Tuesday. The bill proposes to change Arkansas’s Medicaid Expansion health insurance coverage in a variety of ways. Currently, all eligible adults in the program are covered by Qualified Health Plans (private insurance that is funded by Medicaid). The bill proposes that the state cover some beneficiaries in the traditional Medicaid program, while allowing others to be covered by the private plans. To receive coverage from the private insurance plans, participants would be required to take part in “Health Improvement Initiatives” and “Economic Independent Initiatives.” An Oversight Advisory Panel would be created to monitor the program. The bill is scheduled to be heard by the full House at 1:00 PM on Monday, March 29.

Scheduled: HB 1176, sponsored by Reps. Lee Johnson and Aaron Pilkington, would allow Medicaid to pay for mental health services delivered through telemedicine through the end of 2021 or the end of the public health emergency, whichever is later. It is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor at 2:00 PM on Tuesday, March 30.

Immigrant Families

Scheduled: Rep. Penzo’s HB 1378 would authorize professional licensure for people from islands that are part of the Compact of Free Association with the United States. In Arkansas, that’s mostly people from the Marshall Islands. It is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor at 2:00 PM on Tuesday, March 30.

Scheduled: On Monday, HB 1594, sponsored by Rep. DeAnn Vaught and Sen. Lance Eads, passed the Senate Education Committee. 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 at 1:00 PM on Monday, March 29.

Juvenile Justice

Amended: Sen. Alan Clark’s SB 455 was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and failed to pass on a voice vote. Sen. Clark withdrew the bill for amendment, and the bill was re-referred to the committee. Under current Arkansas law, juvenile courts are allowed to levy a wide range of fees and fines for juveniles in the courts, and families can be required to pay out of pocket for services including, but not limited to: cost of counsel; probation and supervision; diversion and treatment services. This bill would eliminate these fees and fines. It would also ensure that certain services are available at no cost to juveniles or parents, including: educational opportunities while juveniles are in state custody, diversion alternatives, the cost of attorneys, and other services; and would waive any fees and fines that have already been levied on families.

Now Law: HB 1470, sponsored by Rep. Jamie Scott and Sen. Alan Clark, is now Act 422. The new law limits the use of solitary confinement for pregnant women and new mothers in jails, prisons and juvenile facilities. It prohibits solitary confinement for those women except under limited circumstances, including a substantial risk of imminent serious physical injury. And then, the solitary confinement cannot be for more than 30 days.

K-12 Education

Progressed: Rep. Jimmy Gazaway’s HB 1610 passed the House Education Committee on Monday. This bill would require that each public school district implement positive behavioral supports for prevention, strategic intervention, and intensive services or crisis management for students at various stages of exhibiting social, emotional, or behavioral problems or crisis; and would place major limits on schools’ use of physical restraints on students and outlines and requires training of school personnel and the adoption of policies concerning the use of physical restraints.

New Bill: Rep. Julie Mayberry filed HB 1826 on Tuesday. This bill would require that each public school district provide a health services program under the direction of a licensed registered nurse; beginning with the 2021-22 school year, it would require that at least one licensed registered nurse employed by or contracted with each public school district to annually participate in nursing professional development; and would require the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, in conjunction with the Department of Health, to develop and implement an education program for school nurses.

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 29. 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 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, passed Senate Education Committee on Monday. The bill 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 full Senate at 1:00 PM on Monday, March 29.

Progressed: Sen. Irvin and Rep. Lee Johnson’s SB 291 was heard by the House of Representatives but failed to pass on Monday. The vote was expunged, and the bill has been re-referred to the House Education Committee. 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.

Updates on some of the bills AACF opposes

Early Childhood

Scheduled: Rep. Mary Bentley and Sen. Breanne Davis’s HB 1644 is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor at 2:00 PM on Tuesday, March 30. This bill would prohibit DHS from imposing minimum post-secondary education requirements for child care program directors and workers.

Family and Economic Security

Scheduled: Sen. Jonathan Dismang and Rep. Spencer Hawks filed SB 594 on Monday. 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 it puts too much of the onus on tenants to seek relief from unsafe living conditions. The bill is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Insurance and Commerce Committee at 2:00 PM on Tuesday, March 30.

Scheduled: Rep. Austin McCollum and Sen. Bart Hester’s HB 1676 is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor at 2:00 PM on Tuesday, March 30. This bill would reduce the maximum length of unemployment benefits from 16 weeks to 12 weeks in some circumstances. The bill is assigned to the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor.

Health Care

Scheduled: Rep. Josh Miller and Sen. Dan Sullivan’s HB 1428 is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor at 2:00 PM on Tuesday, March 30. This bill would eliminate the Arkansas Works Medicaid Expansion for uninsured adults. It proposes to move the adults eligible under Arkansas Works into the regular Medicaid program.

Scheduled: HB 1570, sponsored by Rep. Robin Lundstrum and Sen. Alan Clark, passed the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Monday. The bill 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 full Senate at 1:00 PM on Monday, March 29.

K-12 Education

Failed on the Senate Floor: HB 1101, sponsored by Rep. Brian Evans and Sen. James Sturch, passed the Senate Committee on Education on Monday but failed to pass the full Senate on Tuesday. The Senate’s vote was expunged, and the bill could be heard again in the future. This bill would increase the number of signatures required to petition a local school district board to meet, from the current 50 qualified electors in the school district, to whichever is greater: 50, but no more than 200, qualified electors in the district or 1 percent of the qualified electors in the school district.

Scheduled: Rep. David Ray and Sen. Jane English’s HB 1446 is scheduled to be heard by the full House at 1:00 PM on Monday, March 29. This bill would expand the list of groups eligible to receive a Succeed Scholarship, used to pay private school K-12 vouchers with funding meant for public schools.

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