Legislative Activity Hits High Gear
LITTLE ROCK – As the legislative session enters its final weeks, activity is in high gear.
The highlight of the week was the final passage of the governor’s historic reform of Arkansas education.
Dozens of other important measures were advanced out of committee and approved by the Senate and House of Representatives.
Both chambers approved HB 1419 to change the rules for citizens’ groups trying to place an issue on statewide ballots.
Currently, supporters of an initiative or proposed amendment must submit signatures from at least 15 counties. HB 1419 would require a minimum number of signatures from 50 counties. Arkansas has 75 counties.
The bill’s sponsors say it is too easy for wealthy special interests to get an issue on the ballot. Opponents question whether the bill is constitutional.
Senate Bill 199 was sent to the governor for signing. It would extend the period in which a person can sue a physician for malpractice for performing gender transformation procedures on a minor. Those procedures include surgery and hormone therapy.
People who have had the procedures could file a malpractice suit up to 15 years after they turn 18.
The Senate passed SB 270 to expand the definition of sexual indecency with a child to include adults who knowingly enter and remain in a bathroom assigned to the opposite sex, if a minor is present.
It does not apply to parents with their own children who are under the age of seven.
The House passed HB 1156 to require schools to designate all bathrooms and changing areas as exclusively for boys or girls. If a student is unwilling or unable to use the boys or girls bathrooms, the school must provide a reasonable accommodation, such as a single-use room.
The Senate approved SB 262 to remove the power of the state Board of Education to require consolidation or annexation of a school districts whose student population falls below 350.
Act 195 repeals a state law that required teenagers under the age of 16 to get an employment certificate from the state Department of Labor as a condition for getting a job.
The House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs advanced HB 1513 to create an election integrity unit within the office of the state Attorney General.
The unit will work with the state Board of Election Commissioners and the Secretary of State. Its staff will track all violations of election and voter registration laws, and will oversee the hotline for reporting violations that is maintained by the Attorney General.
The House approved and a Senate committee advanced HB 1401 to cut from two years to one year the cumulative period that an able-bodied adult is eligible for welfare.
According to the bill’s sponsor, more than half of the recipients of cash welfare in Arkansas have received it for longer than 18 months. Technically, the cash assistance program is under the Department of Workforce Services and is called the Transitional Employment Assistance Program.
HB 1401 would not affect children, people who cannot find work due to circumstances beyond their control, parents or caregivers over 60 and parents or caregivers with disabilities.