Now that we have waded through most of the campaign finance and PAC bills, we are beginning to hear and read other voices in the Senate for a wide array of bills this week. From xenophobic refugee bills to concealing open carry bills to assigning boards of technical colleges bills, buckle up and prepare to delve into the exciting, and at times backwards, policies up for debate in the AR Senate this coming year!
SB 8 deals with a waiver of confidentiality in child maltreatment cases. Right now, confidentiality rules surrounding child abuse and neglect cases allow state legislators access to confidential information pertaining to a completed child maltreatment investigation, but prevent them from discussing it in committee — a public forum where press is often in attendance. SB 8 amends the state Child Maltreatment Act to allow for a “waiver of confidentiality” that would permit “the release of information on a true investigative determination pending due process.”
B: Sen. Alan Clark is the author of the bill and I am not surprised to see this one in rotation. Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS)/Department of Human Services (DHS) has been sort of a sticking point for him over the past few years. And while DCFS/DHS and Social Services should have measures of accountability, I am always astounded by the level of hubris exercised by Sen. Clark, who has stated, “I would rather have a legislator making that decision than a bureaucrat.” What bureaucrat is he referring to? That would be a social worker, because we all know they are in it for the love of bureaucracy. Trying to cut down on my cynicism, I decided to give Sen. Clark some leeway in experience – I don’t know what his profession is. Maybe he is trained in social work and knows what he is talking about. After a quick trip to his webpage, I quickly find that his occupation is “businessman” – in particular, VP of Clarks Building and Decorating Center.
Over-inflated egos aside, SB 8 could provide some benefits by creating more transparency in the process by having measures of public accountability, airing sensitive information regarding children to anyone who wanders into a public forum might not be the best way to go about it.
L: While transparency is good and legislative oversight necessary, I fail to understand why the state congress needs to be able to discuss information including “protected health information” that could very easily identify the subject of the abuse in question to the public, as the original law recognized. The function of the DCFS/DHS should be under the purview of state representatives, however the assumption that individual cases should be the same cedes too much power to the legislative branch and fails the people state representatives are meant to serve.
SB 9 is also written by Sen. Clark. SB 9 would exempt from the state sales tax the withdrawal of products from a company’s stock for the purpose of charitable giving. The exemption would not apply to alcoholic beverages or tobacco products. Allowed recipients of charitable gifts are 501(c)(3) non-profits, public educational institution, nonprofit churches, or private individuals in a disaster state.
B: One of the allowed charities are private individuals, which is only solidified in its vagueness by the measure of accountability in recording the charitable giving is an affidavit given by the company getting the tax break.
L: “PERVERSE AND ABSURD” as Senator Clark writes in the long title, certainly sets the tone for the bill itself. The inclusion of private charity to individuals in state-proclaimed disaster areas will make some Republican and Libertarian hands clap. Perhaps my weak-legal mind is missing something, but I can’t help but wonder why the senator failed to ensure that the recipient of the charity in said disaster area had actually endured some portion of the disaster. My parents have lived in St. Landry Parish and despite Katrina, Gustav (which aimed far more directly at St. Landry than Katrina), and the recent flooding, their home has received little to no damage.
But what is perhaps most perverse and absurd about this bill, is that private individuals can already deduct charitable gifts of property when it is given to “qualified organizations” such as: “federal, state, and local governments and organizations operated for charitable, religious, educational, scientific or literary purposes, or organizations that work to prevent cruelty to children or animals.” The only group not listed but included within the bill itself are private individuals, which, given my above whining, doesn’t work under the schema introduced in this legislation.
Given that the writer of the bill wants to exempt charitably given withdrawn stock from an unnecessary tax burden, the writer could have very easily added the phrase “except when the withdrawn stock is given to a qualified organization as a charitable donation” to the end of 26-52-322 (b)(1), simplifying an unnecessarily complex bill.
Our favorite PAC group is back at it with SB 10; but in a twist, SB 10 does not deal with PAC or campaigns. SB 10 amends the provisions of AR code that cover local boards for technical colleges. The amended code would have technical colleges, much like community colleges, after merging with a four-year institution have the four-year institution’s board of trustees also serve as the technical college board. The code would also include an emergency clause, which would send this bill into immediate effect upon approval by the Governor.
L: Fairly straightforward and to the point, the bill seems to take care of what it needs to take care of.
B: If this is parallel to the code governing community colleges, it makes sense. The only pause I have is that technical colleges may have vocational programs that four-year institution and their boards are not familiar with and I would hope those boards would make a concentrated effort to understand those programs, their needs, and purposes to oversee the college in a fair and truly representative manner.
SB 12 would exempt a public school or college’s emergency or security records from the state Freedom of Information Act. Emergency or security records, in this bill, also include open carry permits. You read that right- SB 12 is written in part to CONCEAL which teachers on campus have OPEN carry permits/have a weapon on campus. (We try not to get too political in the summaries, but we felt compelled to highlight the dissonance)
L: We seem to live in a time that is decidedly anti-glasnost. Among the most damning effects of this law is that schools could lobby against almost any revelation on the basis of reduced security, the law is not exactly clear on what cannot be obstructed on security grounds, thereby endangering the informed democracy the FOIA was designed to protect. As the legislative intent of that 1967 bill states: “It is vital in a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner so that the electors shall be advised of the performance of public officials and of the decisions that are reached in public activity and in making public policy.” The pursuit of security should not upend our ability to criticize and investigate the government.
B: I am becoming all too familiar with senators and representatives that I find irritating and backwards. Sen. Gary Stubblefield is one of those senators. Sen. Stubblefield, who will be showing up later with a lovely bill that deals with blocking refugees, is attempting to take on open carry with SB 12. Stubblefield said he filed SB 12 because he knows teachers and school administrators in his district with permits to carry a firearm while on school property. “This bill keeps their names from disclosure and protects those teachers that carry weapons,” he said.
SB 13 is a copy of HB 1003. For those of you who don’t take the time to memorize every bill and summary ie: everyone in existence, HB 1003/SB 13 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.
B and L: Surprisingly, we haven’t waivered since the last time we trudged through this one.
SB 14 is what we promised in SB 12. Written by Sen. Stubblefield, SB 14 would prohibit, municipal sanctuary policies; that is, would prohibit Arkansas municipalities from enacting any policies granting certain rights to illegal immigrants or setting up so-called “sanctuary cities,” a term used here to define communities that protect undocumented immigrants who violate federal laws. Seeing as merely being an undocumented immigrant or refugee violates federal laws, it seems rather repetitive.
B: Before I even launch in with why this is ridiculous, let me share this little sound byte from Sen. Stubblefield: “When asked if there is such a problem [of sanctuary cities] in Arkansas, Stubblefield replied “No. As far as I know, there are not any sanctuary cities in the state of Arkansas,” he said. So thank you, Sen. Stubblefield, for preserving in state record your xenophobia.
L: Yeah, I find it hard to justify a fix for something that doesn’t exist in the state. Frankly, other than overly publicized cases of illegal immigrants murdering a white person (generally a white woman), immigrants tend to commit fewer crimes than the population at large. This being the case, I’m not sure I see many reasons to justify the manic obsession that the right has with illegal immigration.
Full disclosure: SB 15 is an extremely broad bill. The following description may not be exhaustive.
SB 15 would place certain requirements on ad litem attorneys. Ad litem attorneys are from the Administrative Office of the Courts who are intended to represent “the best interest of the child” in court; SB 15 would remove the ability of ad litems to file a dependency-neglect petition, meaning only DCFS/DHS or law enforcement could do so. SB 15 would require temporary placement with an available noncustodial parent — rather than placed into foster care — if a child is removed from their parents’ care. Before terminating parental rights, a court would be required to consider factors such as the age and health of the child, the likelihood of the child finding a permanent placement (such as adoption) and more. SB 15 would also create a process to reinstate parental rights after termination. The bill outlines the conditions for reinstatement of parental rights. SB 15 is retroactive, meaning some Arkansas parents who have lost their parental rights in the past could theoretically get them reinstated.
B: There is a lot going on here, and while I generally disagree with Sen. Clark, a lot of what he takes on in this bill (and the following three) are issues that are aptly criticized. Arkansas has placed a record number of children in foster care over the past few years. In November, DCFS and DHS announced a plan for internal reforms to help untangle the process. SB 15, however, takes on other actors in the flawed system. Some of this bill I disagree with (ad litem attorneys help alleviate some of the stress on the already overworked social worker) and some I agree with (reinstatement of parent rights under specific conditions and fictive kin placement). So perhaps this bill can serve another purpose as well- don’t make them too broad unless you want to spend months in committee taking on the different avenues of debate.
L: I don’t really have anything to add. I like the idea of parents being able to recover their children through some sort of redemptive system, but I don’t know enough about how that works to really talk about it effectively.
Written as part of a set by Sen. Clark, SB 16 would allow legislators to obtain and review child maltreatment investigations conducted by DCFS/DHS or the Arkansas State Police. It also would authorize legislators to request information “concerning unlawful activity of an … employee” related to child maltreatment investigations.
L: I think I’m only comfortable with this expansion of legislative power for reviewing agency procedure, only one of the reasons the bill suggests for which legislators can request information on a case. Otherwise, this seems like a bit of a stretch.
B: I still don’t get why he thinks legislators, with zero experience in social services, police investigative tactics, or, in most cases, law, would be the best people to review child maltreatment cases?
SB 17, or Part 3 of 4 in Sen. Clark’s crusade, would allow DCFS to comply with the parent’s request to place the child temporarily with a relative or fictive kin if the agency determines it is appropriate.
B: This is one part of SB 15 that I liked. DCFS can still opt to place the child in foster care should no kin be deemed appropriate, but also exercise the option to choose kin if appropriate.
L: While I also like the spirit of this bill (pulling out those student congress stock phrases) I find part of the provision unnerving. The person suggesting relatives or family friends for the child in question is “the legal parent, guardian, or custodian of the child.” I don’t mean to overstate this concern, there are rules that limit the potential caretakers to identifiable good hombres, but it does not take much thought to imagine a shitty parent or guardian knowing more about their friends than the police or a stressed social worker can dig up quickly.
And last but not least for Sen. Clark, SB 18. SB 18 would require the court to appoint counsel to represent a parent in a termination of parental rights hearing at the parent’s request (even if he or she is not indigent). SB 18 would also create a funding stream for the Administrative Office of the Courts exclusively for parent counsel for termination of parental rights proceedings.
L: Great, you create a group of people who function like public defenders for family law cases. Also like public defenders, the funding is uncertain and there will undoubtedly be a pool of overworked, underpaid legal counsels who cater to this system because someone has to. I really like this bill, just why couldn’t it have been better thought out?
B: First off, because money is mentioned for already limited counsel, would this stream be determined by looking at costs for the past x-number of years for an average or median cost so we aren’t filling coffers with unused counsel funds? I know the bill says they will be put back in general funds for the next year, but why take away too much from the start, thus limiting the money for counsel in the current year?
Sen. Stubblefield is unfortunately back, this time with SB 19. SB 19 would make it a hate crime to attack, stalk or make threats against police officers, paramedics and other law enforcement officials and members of their families.
B: I want to proceed with caution, because while I don’t experience it, I understand there is a weight and risk that officers adopt when they choose their career path. But I want to stress that last part- this is a career, a job, a position chosen. Hate crimes are defined by the FBI as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” Adding a selected job position not only reduces race, religion, etc. to choices, but given the backlash against Black Lives Matter, is a true mark of our hypocrisy.
L: It’s worth noting that while the number of officers shot this year is up (at 64 versus a decade average of 53), this by no means indicates some sort of impending catastrophe, nor some trend in need of being addressed. Frankly, this is just another example of reactionary backlash to the shootings in Dallas, a tragic but rare occurrence. Perhaps I would take this kind of legislation more seriously if there was any mutual interest in the number of individuals shot and killed by police in 2016 or indeed if I detected any sympathy from the Right for individuals currently enduring intolerance for their race, religion, sexual orientation, or for any other cause.
SB 20, written by Sen. Hendren, would amend AR code to make it a Class Y felony to commit aggravated assault upon a law enforcement officer or an employee of a correctional facility. A Class Y felony is punishable by 10 to 40 years or life in prison.
B: Given how we can’t indict an officer for shooting any number of black individuals, either unarmed or armed (because as we have seen in prior bills, being armed should not be considered threatening), I’m a little irritated that I have come across two bills that place the lives of officers above the lives of other individuals.
L: *sigh* It really puts the “more” in the “Blue Lives Matter” doesn’t it?
SB 21 would require a person applying for an elementary-level teaching license to pass the Foundations of Reading Test and the General Curriculum Test of the Massachusetts Tests for Education Licensure. As of now, this can be circumvented if a teacher has three years of teaching experience.
L: I always find grandfather clauses in things like this deliciously ironic: we have a problem with the existing teaching body that we need to fix, however we’re going to fix it only by changing the protocols for new teachers. That said, I don’t know enough about the Massachusetts Tests to actually confirm whether or not this is a good law.
B: Seeing as everyone in my family works in public education, I am dying to talk to them about this over the holidays and get their opinions.
SB 22 added language to the Arkansas code that would regulate and establish a deadline for logic and accuracy testing prior to a runoff election.
B: Makes me wonder what the system is now?
L: I’m not 100% on why we need rules specific to runoff elections but I’d hope Senator Bledsoe could explain it to me.
SB 23 is the shortest bill we have seen to date. It four lines of proposed legislation and would amend the density ratios need for special needs isolated funding for public school districts from 1.3 to 1.5 students or less per square mile.
L: Short, sweet, and to the point. I assume this means they’re surreptitiously cutting funding, but I could be completely backwards on that.
B: I have scoured the internet and can’t figure out why this bill is pertinent. I’m not saying it may not have a great purpose; it is just not readily accessible. So this one I am flagging to follow as it moves through committee.
SB 24 covers quite a bit of ground regarding criminal detention facilitation review committees. It first amends AR code to include juvenile criminal detention facilities as having to meet the same maintenance requirements as non-juvenile facilities. It also alters the review committees for these facilities, establishing eight committee districts. Each districts has a committee of at least 5 members who cannot hold public office. There also must be one member on each committee who is a youth services worker or juvenile advocate. These committee members are appointed by the Governor and serve a four year term.
B: When I don’t know much about the subject of a bill, I do what I advocate and seek out information; however, it is difficult to ascertain what kind of system is already in place. When you look at the DFA website under Criminal Detention Facilities review, you are just greeted with this:
“The Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committees are charged by law with the duties of annually inspecting jails that house city and county prisoners to ensure that the facilities comply with State mandated minimum standards.
The Coordinator’s Office is responsible for assisting the Review Committees and for ensuring that they perform their legal mandate of interpreting and administering the Standards uniformly.”
So not terribly helpful.
I also always proceed with a bit of skepticism when a bill focuses on “reduce the size of state government”, as the title states. Usually that pans out in one of two ways: comprehensive overhaul that focuses on restructuring a less satisfactory agency, or going all Rick Perry and wanting to cut the entire department you may now very well head.
L: This seems like a great bill, although it’s pretty deep in the reeds regarding existing law and I’m no lawyer. I would have preferred a provision limiting the number of prison industry members who could sit on the board (two would not have been the end of the world, though one or fewer would have been preferable), but the inclusion of a youth services worker is, I think, heartening.
And there you have it, your third 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