As part of the Defining Arkansas Values Initiative, the Urban League of the State of Arkansas, in collaboration with Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and The Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, will host a virtual town hall, Defining Arkansas Values: A Discussion on Arkansas’ 93rd General Assembly.
This conversation will focus on proposed legislation of Arkansas’ 93rd General Assembly. Panelists will highlight and discuss bills that would help reduce inequity, as well as proposed legislation that would exacerbate current inequalities.
WHEN: 7:00 p.m., Monday, February 8
WHERE: KATV Channel 7 Facebook Live
This week was largely dominated by SB 24, the highly controversial Stand Your Ground bill. While it failed to get the votes needed to pass the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, there was speculation the bill sponsors would vote to extract the bill, pushing it to be heard by the full House regardless. While that did not transpire, we expect the bill sponsors to amend the bill and return it to committee. Some major education bills were filed, including a voucher bill and one that would change Arkansas’s constitutional obligations with regard to public education. And while the bill to put limits on Arkansas’s voting rights progressed, new bills were filed or made progress that could help Arkansas’s Marshallese residents become employed as law enforcement officers and in other licensed professions.
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
Democracy and Voting Rights
Yesterday HB 1202, led by Rep. Andrew Collins and Sen. Breanne Davis, passed the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs and is scheduled to be heard by the full Senate on Monday, Feb. 8 at 1 pm. This bill would require that sample ballots for each polling site be posted online for voters to review.
Sen. Clarke Tucker’s SB 271 was amended this week and remains in the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs. This bill would make several changes to the absentee voting process, including allowing plain language to be used in the 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.
HB 1009, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Committee on Education on Monday, Feb. 8. The bill would allow public schools to distribute excess food to students for consumption at home or on campus.
This week, HB 1176, sponsored by Reps. Lee Johnson and Aaron Pilkington, along with Sen. Breanne Davis, passed the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee. The bill would authorize Arkansas Medicaid to keep the behavioral and mental health services telemedicine changes made during the pandemic and make them permanent. The bill would ensure that providers will continue to be paid for providing telemedicine services to people receiving Medicaid.
Rep. Megan Godfrey and Sen. David Wallace’s HB 1342 underwent a series of amendments this week. This bill 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. The amendments don’t change the intent but just made some clarifications. It remains with the House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs.
This week Rep. Clint Penzo filed HB 1378. This bill 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.
Sen. Missy Irvin and Rep. Lee Johnson filed SB 291 this week. 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 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. The bill has been assigned to the House Committee on Education.
HB 1029, filed by Rep. Fred Allen, passed the House Committee on Education this week. The bill would add John Walker to the list of civil rights leaders in the teaching materials regarding African American history in public schools. John W. Walker (1937-2019) was a lawyer who emerged from segregated schools and society in southwestern Arkansas to wage a 60-year war on discrimination in Arkansas’s education systems, public institutions and workforce. From 2011 until his death, Walker was a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives. He received numerous awards during his lifetime and was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.
This week, Sen. Bart Hester and Rep. Clint Penzo filed SB 287. This bill would allow recipients of certain state-funded scholarships to include lawful permanent residents, those with visas and those who are migrants from Compact of Free Association islands, such as the Marshall Islands. Current law states that only citizens can obtain those scholarships. It has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee.
Rep. Penzo also filed HB 1387 this week. It would make clear that migrants who live in the United States under a Compact of Free Association may obtain state teaching licenses. In Arkansas, this mostly applies to people born in the Marshall Islands. It is assigned to the House Committee on Education.
HB 1102, co-sponsored by Rep. Brian Evans and Sen. James Sturch, passed the House and was referred to the Senate Committee on Education this week. The bill 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.
HB 1151, sponsored by Rep. Brian Evans and Sen. Lance Eads, passed the Senate this week and heads to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. It requires that the public school rating system be suspended for the 2020-21 school year.
SB 160, sponsored by Sen. Bart Hester and Rep. DeAnn Vaught, was again amended this week. This 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. The bill remains with the Senate Education Committee.
Sen. Jane English’s SB 31 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Education Committee on Monday, Feb. 8. The bill would amend the components of the college and career assessments by including assessments that lead to a nationally recognized work readiness certificate.
Bills AACF Opposes
Democracy and Voting Rights
HB 1112, sponsored by Rep. Mark Lowery, passed the House this week and has been referred to the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs. 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.
This week Rep. Josh Miller and Sen. Dan Sullivan filed HB 1428. 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. It has been assigned to the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor.
Sen. Mark Johnson filed SJR 4 this week. This would refer to the voters an amendment to the state constitution to remove the requirement that the state maintain a “general, suitable and efficient system of free public schools,” which has constitutional requirements and protections attached to it via previous court cases. The replacement language basically requires the legislature to provide free public schools subject to whatever conditions and limitations it decides, not what the court might have decided in previous court cases. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs.
HB 1101, sponsored by Rep. Brian Evans and Sen. James Sturch, passed the House this week and has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Education. 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.
Rep. Ken Bragg and Sen. Jonathan Dismang filed HB 1371 this week. This bill would 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. It has been assigned to the House Committee on Education.
SB 24, sponsored by Sen. Bob Ballinger and Rep. Aaron Pilkington, failed to pass the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The so-called “Stand Your Ground” bill would remove the duty to retreat, under certain circumstances, from Arkansas’s self-defense law.
Rep. Lowery and Sen. Stubblefield’s HB 1231 is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Education on Tuesday, Feb. 9. 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 of 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, an amendment was made to HB 1316. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lanny Fite and Sen. Dave Wallace, would eliminate a tax on the manufacturers and wholesalers of soft drinks that funds the Medicaid Trust Fund. The amendment was to drop Rep. Danny Watson as a co-sponsor. It remains with the House Committee on Revenue and Taxation.
This week Rep. John Maddox filed HB 1403. This bill would the top income tax rate in a way that primarily benefits the most affluent Arkansans.
Rep. Les Eaves and Sen. Jonathan Dismang filed HB 1361 this week. This bill would allow businesses that received loans through the Paycheck Protection Program to deduct payroll and other expenses paid from PPP loans from taxable income. It is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Revenue and Taxation on Tuesday, Feb. 9.