2017 Regular Session AR House Bills: Round 1

After recovering from a massive dose of tryptophan, we have finally moved on to finish the Arkansas House bills for the first two weeks of filing.

As with the Senate bills we covered last week, the header for each bill is hyperlinked to the draft bill to save some time for anyone who doesn’t take joy in figuring out the Arkansas State Assembly website.

And without further ado, here are our weekly contenders:

House Bill 1002

HB 1002 focuses on regulating equipment in school buses, namely seat belts. It seeks to not only have “certain” buses equipped with seat belts, but also to enforce the use of those seat belts. Notice we focused on the distinction of “certain” buses. This legislation would only pertain to school buses purchased new and after January 1, 2018. As far as the enforcing measure in this bill, it wouldn’t be much of a change from the already in place bus behavior policies in certain districts: you violate the rule, you receive a bus referral. There are clauses that also address some reasons that seat belts would not be required such as using a bus for emergency evacuations or medical conditions that are verified by a physician.

Overall, this bill seems straightforward. In fact, it sounds like a bill we might have run across at Student Congress. It isn’t until the bottom of page two where some might get lost in the language. HB 1002 states if a petition by at least 10% of a school districts electors is submitted requesting the installation of seat belts, the school district must comply – for any bus. This would be covered by an additional ad valorem (proportionate) property tax, which would be proposed by the school district.

Our thoughts?

B: California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Texas have passed some variation of a seat belt law for school buses but some states have not granted funding. In 2015, 12 states have introduced bills that would require school buses to have seat belts installed – none of those bills passed. Personally, I would love to see Arkansas adopt this stance on bus safety, but in terms of pressing issues, it doesn’t top my list. Per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, school buses are the safest mode of transportation for children regardless of seatbelts. And yes, I read the news and saw the tragedy that occurred in Tennessee. I am not advocating against seatbelts nor attempting to diminish the pain experienced from that incident, but I am saying that we should avoid hasty generalizations/logical fallacies as evidence.

L: Snoresville, here we come. The only thing that I find really interesting is that the bill has an exemption for disabled individuals, who cannot sit in a normal seat and seat belt, but does not actually ensure that school districts with disabled students would have another safety mechanism in place for those students. Kind of a big oversight, some might say.

House Bill 1003

HB 1003 is a tax exemption bill. It would create an income tax exemption for retirement and survivor benefits received by former US military members – that is these benefits would not have income taxes applied. Every other citizen would have the usual exemption up to $6,000 and anything past that mark would have income taxes applied.

Our thoughts?

B: I usually walk a fine line when discussing the military (and police). Do I respect their service? Absolutely. But I am also willing to label the service what it is – part of a job/career path they chose. As such, I find this bill confusing. If someone fights to protect the “law of the land”, as a bumper sticker this morning told me in patriotic fonts, then why would they then want to be exempt from the law of the land? But this is where I am also torn- most retirees didn’t opt into the military like we do presently, but this bill has no specifics on how long this exemption would last, how much revenue would be lost, or does this apply to compulsory service positions. I don’t know, maybe I am just too bitter, but it seems to me that if we wanted to really put in an effort to help retired military personnel, we would look at establishing more state VA homes and care, put more pressure on our federal  re-addressing federal VA budget allocations, and stop creating exemptions that leave us with even less money to provide adequate care to all.

L: As Brittany does an excellent job of skewering the military exemption in this (frightening though it may be)*, I’m going to focus on the civilian exemptions, which extend to IRAs and public or private employment-related retirement systems (which are not actually defined within the text of the bill itself). While the exemption only applies to the first $6000 withdrawn from a retirement account, income taxes are exempt no matter the six of the account. The Waltons, in withdrawing from an IRA, could claim the same tax exemption you or I could, costing the state money that it desperately needs to, you know, do all of the wonderful things states do. I think I would like this bill a lot more if it limited the exemption to accounts of a certain size, and I would love it if it were written in an actually comprehensible way.

*This tendency to create a separate class of citizens based exclusively on military service always seems too reminiscent of a modern feudalism or Heinlein’s fascist Earth in Starship Troopers.  Neither invites happy comparisons.

House Bill 1004

AUTOMATIC VOTER REGISTRATION! Sorry, we were a little overwhelmed to have a voter registration bill that didn’t have flaming hoops to jump through. HB 1004 would retain the AR Constitutional Amendment requiring the Secretary of State to prepare and distribute mail voter registration applications, but a new subsection would allow the Office of Driver Services to provide the Secretary of State with information to automatically register individuals to vote if they have a form of state ID.

Our thoughts?

B: I loved this out in California and I would love it here. Of course, as much joy adding millions of voters to the register give me, it does nothing if less than half show up to the polls for a presidential election, let alone the pittance that votes in state elections.

L: Are we still in the South? This doesn’t happen in the South… Wait, and there’s a subsection describing educational material for elections in languages other than English? This can’t be the South…

House Bill 1005

HB 1005 was submitted by the same authors of HB 1002 (and every other campaign finance bill that will come up in session this year). This particular bill would amend Arkansas code to require reporting and disclosure of electioneering communications, as well as restrict the amount of money spent on campaign communications. The language of this bill is entirely new, essentially adding 22 pages of fairly exhaustive limits on means of electioneering. From the language of the bill, electioneering communication is most forms of political advertisement: digital, written, print, cable, radio broadcast, etc. Mail, telephone, and Internet are exempt, as well as news stories that are run about the candidate (not by the candidate). As far as the disclosure statements, the new code would require a candidate to file a disclosure statement with the Secretary of State if they have made one or more electioneering communications exceeding an aggregate amount of $1,000 within one calendar year. The disclosure statement requirements span 4-5 pages, bulleted A-L with about 10 sub-bullets under each lettered bullet. This bill follows a federal standard published and upheld by the FEC.

Our thoughts?

B: I have a slight headache at this point and we have just begun. But the thoroughness of the language, as well as the parallelism to federal code, is appreciated. These disclosures will bring a structure of federal oversight to state level campaigns.

L: tl;dr. But in all seriousness, election transparency is of paramount importance, and is, in this post Citizen’s United world, one of the few weapons the common people have against elected officials. Because of how dense the bill is, I would appreciate the opinion of someone with more legal experience, or at least patience.

House Bill 1006

You remember our PAC group from the Senate bills? They co-sponsor between chambers. Our PAC groups first bill up in the House (and by no means the last) expands Arkansas code to expand criminal offense concerning abuses of public office and public trust. Abuse of public trust would now, in addition to Class B-D felonies, carry a Class A misdemeanor if the value of illegally accepted benefit is under $500. In the past, if it was under $500, this offense could not apply. These four types of infraction would also apply to abuse of office, which previous could only carry a Class B misdemeanor.

Our thoughts?

B: PAC group isn’t playing anymore. They are ready for some very specific and very structured accountability.

L: Wow, I’m looking forward to the language about cutting off hands and slitting nostrils as part of the impeachment process. But, in all seriousness, I’m a fan.

House Bill 1007

Another PAC group bill, this one is a duplicate of SB 6. For those who missed our Senate bill run-down, SB 6 addresses Peterson v. Judges of Jefferson County Circuit Court and Pierson v. Ray. SB 6 seeks to create an exception to a grant of judicial immunity by allowing individuals to file a claim in circuit court against a judge who delivered a verdict swayed by bribery. As this is a new exception, the entirety of the bill is new language that is not found in state code. It outlines a statute of limitations of 3 years and the remedies that the claimant is entitled to should the claim be verified.

Our thoughts?

B: All the PAC bills were filed by Senator Keith Ingram of West Memphis, who was named Legislator of the Year by the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault and has been a favorite state legislator of mine ever since. Not pertinent to the bill, but a big plus. In terms of the bill, I want to watch the discussion in opposition because I couldn’t fathom a reason to not provide recourse for justice.

L: I wonder how often judges actually get bribed in this state? Further, how often are they bribed to rule against (rather than for) the defendant? Glancing through a few Google searches on the subject, none really seem to indicate that many people are bribing judges (in Arkansas at least) to hand down harsher sentences, but I’d appreciate any statistics anyone could provide on the subject.

House Bill 1008

The PAC group tackles another given with HB 1008. If passed, HB 1008 would increase the penalty for taking campaign funds as personal income. The new penalties range from Class B felonies (amounts at or more than $25,000) to Class A misdemeanors (amounts at or less than $500).

Our thoughts?

B: Just don’t lie and take stuff?

L: Really straightforward and I can’t see anything blatantly wrong with it.

House Bill 1009

This is SB 5, which we covered last week.

“This bill would prevent an Arkansas Constitutional office holder from forming more than one approved political action committee. A holder of a constitutional office is defined as: Governor; Lieutenant Governor; Secretary of State; Treasurer of State; Auditor of State; Attorney General; Commissioner of State Lands; Member of the General Assembly; Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; Justice of the Supreme Court; Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals; Judge of the Court of Appeals; Circuit court judge; District court judge; Prosecuting attorney; and Member of the independent citizens commission for the purpose of setting salaries of elected constitutional officers of the executive department, members of the General Assembly, justices, and judges under Arkansas Constitution, Article 19, § 31. If someone qualifies as one of the aforementioned positions, they can either dissolve the PAC or resign from the PAC.”

Our thoughts?

B: Can we just copy and paste our thoughts too?

L: Insert joke here about wanting to have all the PACs.

House Bill 1010

Short and to the point, HB 1010 would amend Arkansas Code Title 7, Chapter 6, Sub Chapter 2. If HB 1010 passes, campaign finance reports would be available on the Arkansas Secretary of State’s website within 24 hours of filing. This amendment would not apply to school district, township, municipal, or county offices.

Our thoughts?

B: This is one of those bills that we love- transparency with no need for additional funding.

L: I really like this bill and I really would like something like this up and running for future election.

House Bill 1011 and House Bill 1012

Written by the same authors of HB 1010, HB 1011 would prohibit direct contributions between PACs. This amendment to the Arkansas Constitution and other Arkansas code is straightforward but exhaustive.

Now generally, we don’t condone lumping together legislation, but given HB 1012 is addressing the changes implemented in HB 1011, we figured we would at least discuss them in tandem. HB 1012 would follow up the prohibition of direct contributions between PACs by amending language in the Arkansas Constitution and Code to strike contributions to a PAC by “an approved political action committee.”

Our thoughts?

B: These bills would allow some more boundaries between PACs and contributions that I think are beneficial. Instead of having PAC 1 make direct contributions to PAC 2 and PAC 3, who in turn support, “coincidentally”, PAC 1’s candidate du jour, each PAC must remain more independent of other PACs. And while I would have given all my money for my candidate to be sworn in this January, I acknowledge a need to not only rein in the money used for campaigning but also the necessity of spending so much on campaigning.

L: I especially like the idea of controlling out of state political money, even though that’s only a tiny part at the end of 1011. Though Arkansas wasn’t among the states targeted, it’s worth remembering that hyper-partisan politics is being propagated, in part, because a fair number of seats became safely red in 2010, for reasons best outlined here.

House Bill 1013

Providing a break from PAC based legislation is HB 1013, written by David Meeks. It concerns amending Arkansas code concerning the criminal offense of internet stalking a child. This one was a bit confusing at first, only because the first edits seemed like he was just changing “electronic mail” to read “E-mail”, but then we got to page three, which expanded the definition of internet stalking a child to include arranging a meeting with a parent or guardian of a child aged 15 or younger while the parent or guardian is pretending to be that child.

Our thoughts?

B: This one is tricky, because I think I’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t support the idea of protecting children from sexual predators. However, as I read this bill, I don’t find the amendment to mesh with the rest of the code. There is a difference between luring a child and luring an adult under the pretenses of that adult being a child. In that instance, you aren’t internet stalking a child. The language of the amendment also goes on to say that the meeting doesn’t even have to take place, the basis of violation is essentially just catfishing in a chat room.

On a related note, I don’t care for the author of the bill. Quite frankly, I’m surprised he deviated from his crusade to limit women’s health care access to even address anything else.

L: Giving parents the tools to try and save the world, which is exactly what this catfishing seems to do, is a bit out there. Perhaps even more disturbing though, is the fact that the author does not seem to know the difference between the words “deviant” and “deviate,”* a deficit for which we must point at him and laugh mercilessly.

*It’s also worth asking why the bill has to separate out “deviate sexual activity” from sexual intercourse or sexually explicit conduct. Would  BDSM (assuming we’d even classify BDSM as “deviate”) not fall under the classification of sexual explicit conduct? Was the author afraid that if he did not warn us of the deviates, that we would go straight to hell?

And there you have it, your second round of what to expect in the Arkansas General Assembly this legislative session!

Please, feel free to share, comment, or contact us to discuss anything you would like nuanced or with any question you might have regarding how to find out more information on the Arkansas General Assembly. We will continue moving ahead through the filing period, but until the next time, stay motivated and stay informed!

-Brit and Luke



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