SESSION SNAPSHOT: What you need to know from the first two weeks of the 94th Arkansas General Assembly
January 30 - February 5, 2023
By Hunter Field and Antoinette GrajedaWeek One
There were just a few resolutions in the first week of the 94th Arkansas General Assembly, appropriations and sets of rules were passed by the state House and Senate.
One resolution adopted by the House proclaimed Monday, Jan. 16, Religious Freedom Day. The Senate referred the resolution to committee on Thursday.
However, lawmakers continued to file bills. A few of note:
House Bill 1113 by Rep. Ryan Rose (R-Van Buren) would expand the Succeed Scholarship to more foster children.
House Bill 1097 by Rep. David Ray (R-Maumelle) would cut the state’s top income tax rate from 4.9% to 4.5%.
Senate Bill 43 by Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R-Branch) would classify drag shows the same as pornography stores, strip clubs, escort agencies and other “adult-oriented” businesses, meaning drag shows could not occur on public property or where a minor could see it.
A rule change adopted by the House likely will make it harder for citizens to participate in the committee process.
During the pandemic, the posted agenda for committee meetings included the list of bills that were expected to be considered during that meeting.
That was different from how House committees traditionally operated. Historically, all bills that had been assigned to the committee appeared on the agenda, whether they would be heard in that day’s meeting or not.
The Senate Committee on City, County and Local Affairs passed Senate Bill 43 by Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R-Branch) to classify drag performances as adult-oriented businesses.
The committee unanimously passed the controversial measure after a number of witnesses spoke, most of them in opposition.
Perhaps, the most substantive was House Bill 1018 by Rep. Stephen Meeks (R-Greenbrier). It would allow a municipal fire department bomb squad to make arrests and lawfully carry a weapon in certain circumstances.
It passed the House, but not before some debate and heartburn over training requirements and the extent of bomb squad members’ arrest authority. (There are only three municipal bomb squads in Arkansas, so the bill only affects about 20 people, according to Meeks.)
Meeks secured enough votes after promising to amend the bill in the Senate to better define the required training. He also said they were going to work with law enforcement agencies on the arrest authority component, and if they couldn’t come to an agreement, remove that provision altogether. Legislators expressed concern about not amending the bill in the House first.
In the House, Rep. Howard Beaty, Jr. (R-Crossett) made a motion to recall the bill from the Senate. Meeks spoke against it. He said there was agreement on the amendment from the Senate and recalling it would create a bigger workload on the House and delay it by a week. Beaty said the Senate requests that bills have a Senate sponsor before sending it over. The motion to recall the bill failed.
Lawmakers continued to file bills. A few of note:
House Bill 1156 by Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville) would require students to use restrooms based on their birth certificate sex as well as separating students by sex on overnight trips.
Senate Bill 62 by Rep. Ricky Hill (R-Cabot) would prohibit public entities from contracting with companies that boycott the energy, fossil fuel, firearms and ammunition industries.
Senate Bill 71 by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro) would prohibit state entities from granting preferential treatment to an individual or group on the basis of race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin in matters of state employment, public education or state procurement.
House Bill 1174 by Rep. Richard Womack (R-Arkadelphia) would add protections for unborn children by allowing prosecution when a person causes the unborn child’s death, and repealing laws that may allow a person to pressure a pregnant woman to get an abortion.
Senate Bill 81 by Sullivan would amend the law for obscene materials, create an offense for furnishing harmful items to minors and amends the law concerning obscene materials loaned by a library. (arkansasadvocate.com)
Drag performer Athena Sinclair, aka M.D. Hunter, speaks to reporters after testifying against Senate Bill 43 during a committee hearing Jan. 19, 2023. SB43 would define “a drag performance” as an adult-oriented business.(Photo by John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)