Much of the talk this week has been about what kind of Arkansas we want, and if the bills being filed at the Capitol reflect that. With some of the bills under consideration in recent weeks, it can feel like Arkansas may be heading backwards. Hope remains, though, as we look to allow qualified Marshallese residents to join law enforcement in their communities and to make it easier for schools to distribute food that would otherwise go to waste.
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.
Bills AACF Supports
HB 1102 would require additional training and information for public school board members on school safety and student discipline and would mandate additional school district reporting requirements in this area. The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Brian Evans and Sen. James Sturch. It is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Education on Tuesday, February 2.
HB 1151, sponsored by Rep. Brian Evans and Sen. Lance Eads, passed the House this week and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Education. The bill would require that the public school rating system be suspended for the 2020-21 school year.
Rep. David Tollett ‘s HB 1170 was amended this week. The new version of the bill being considered by the House Education Committee would change the date that teachers must be able to demonstrate proficiency in the science of reading instruction from the 2021-2022 school year to the 2023-24 school year.
SB 142, co-sponsored by Sen. Keith Ingram and Rep. Bruce Cozart, was withdrawn from the Senate Education Committee to be amended. This bill would support public schools and open-enrollment charters that have been unable to accurately track changes in their average daily membership by changing how declining enrollment funding is calculated for the 2021-2022 school year and beyond.
SB 160, sponsored by Sen. Bart Hester and Rep. DeAnn Vaught was amended this week. This bill would require that, beginning in the next school year, 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.” It would have the State Board of Education develop curriculum and materials.
HB 1009, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, passed the House this week and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Education. The bill would allow public schools to distribute excess food to students for consumption at home or on campus. It’s been assigned to the House Committee on Education.
This week Rep. Megan Godfrey and Rep. Clint Penzo filed identical bills that would allow those born in the Marshall Islands, who are lawfully residing in Arkansas but are classified as “nonimmigrants” under federal law, to serve as law enforcement officers. Currently, only citizens are allowed to serve. HB 1333 is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs on Monday, February 1. HB 1342 is also assigned to the House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs.
Tax & Budget
SB 10, sponsored by Sen. David Wallace, would provide targeted tax relief to working low- and middle-income families. It is scheduled to be heard the Senate Revenue and Tax Committee on Monday, February 1.
Bills AACF Opposes
Democracy and Voting Rights
HB 1112, filed by Rep. Mark Lowery, was amended this week to pick up a large number of co-sponsors. It is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs on Monday, February 1. The bill would amend the state constitution to effectively end the right to vote for people without certain forms of ID. Right now, people can vote in person or absentee provisionally by signing a sworn affidavit to affirm their identity. The county clerks then verify the voters’ identities using voter registration records, and the election commissioners then count the ballots based on the clerks’ recommendation from reviewing those records. This would end the option to sign an affidavit, so that people who do not own a qualifying ID could no longer exercise their right vote. If you own an ID and forgot to bring it to the polls or submit it with your absentee ballot, you could vote provisionally and submit your ID to the county clerk or election commission office by 12:00 noon on the Monday following the election.
HB 1101, filed by Rep. Brian Evans and Sen. James Sturch, was amended this week and is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Education on Tuesday, February 2. The 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.
SB 24, filed by Sen. Bob Ballinger and Rep. Aaron Pilkington, would remove the duty to retreat, under certain circumstances, from Arkansas’s self-defense law. The so-called “Stand Your Ground” bill is scheduled to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, February 2.
HB 1218, co-sponsored by Rep. Mark Lowery and Sen. Gary Stubblefield was amended this Wednesday. The former version of the bill would have had the state withhold partial funding from public schools and colleges that include teaching to promote social justice for a group of people on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, social class, or political affiliation. It now states that schools shall not allow courses, classes or events that “advocate for the isolation of a group of students” based on those characteristics. The amended version identifies African-American history as a subject that is allowed, as well and voluntary participation in organizations and events.
Rep. Lowery and Sen. Stubblefield’s HB 1231 was also amended this week to add sponsors. This bill would reduce funding to schools that include in their curriculum the “1619 Project.” That’s the New York Times’ sweeping investigation of the history racial disparity in the United States, beginning with the first slave ships that arrived here more than 400 years ago.
Tax and Budget
This week, Rep. Lanny Fite and Sen. David Wallace filed HB 1316. This bill would eliminate a tax on the manufacturers and wholesalers of soft drinks that funds the Medicaid Trust Fund. It has been assigned to the House Committee on Revenue and Taxation.