Here’s the open line. Plus some legislative notes:
* NO WINE BEFORE ITS TIME: Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson couldn’t muster the votes today for Senate committee approval of a bill that would allow supermarkets to expand wine offerings from Arkansas and small-batch wineries in other states. He said it would be amended to sweeten a state subsidy for Arkansas wineries and grape growers that would be paid by an enhanced fee on supermarkets expanding their offerings. He’ll try again. But the House remains as a big obstacle to greater wine choice in grocery stores. A loss for consumers.
* JUDICIAL RETIREMENT: Rep. Matthew Shepherd fell just short of the 51 votes he needed for a bill that would allow judges to stay on the bench longer without losing retirement benefits. They now must retire at the end of a term in which they turn 70, or lose retirement benefits. His bill would up the age to 72. He said the bill would help keep qualified people on the bench. It also would help an unnamed judge in his district who doesn’t want to retire. It apparently won’t help Chief Justice Jim Hannah of the Arkansas Supreme Court, who’d like to run again in 2016. He’ll turn 72 just a few days before the start of a new term, were he to run again. He could serve, but he couldn’t receive retirement benefits. the vote was 49-21.
* SELF INTEREST I: BILLBOARD TAX BREAK: The state has long undervalued billboards. The Assessment Coordination Division established a guide based on practices in other states, including Oklahoma, to take cost and location into account. This will produce tax increases for billboard owners, who include Sen. Bart Hester, the primary sponsor of the bill to override the agency. It zipped through the Senate and today passed the House . Rep. John Walker noted that the bill’s effort to to limit assessments to cost could have a devastating impact elsewhere in taxation. For example: Two houses with identical costs to build have a value quite different in different parts of town. “It’s just not fair to use a cost method by itself,” Walker said. “There’s no reason for this little piece of property to be treated differently than other property.” He said he figured his opposition would assure passage, but he said hoped the legislature would think about passing bills every time two or three representatives came up with an argument to do something that benefited them. The bill passed 67-6.
* SELF INTEREST II: DOLLARS FOR RAPERT: The House voted 52-10 to pass a bill arising from Sen. Jason Rapert to override the state fire code to allow a door-locking device sold by a company in which he, former Republican Rep. Ted Thomas and a Republican JP from Faulkner County are investors. The State Fire marshal testified that the device is unsafe because it would be hard to remove in a time of panic. There are safer devices, but more expensive, by which school doors can be locked in the case of an active shooter. The bill makes the device more salable in thousands of school rooms across Arkansas.
* ANOTHER ANTIABORTION BILL: Senate completed action on legislation to override common medical practice and require Arkansas doctors to follow outdated guidelines on use of RU-486, which is given to women in the first eight weeks of pregnancy to induce a miscarriage. Doctors today use a lower, safer dosage than required in FDA guidelines first issued 20 years ago. The guidelines also complicate the protocol for giving the pill to a patient. The bill is intended to limit and eventually end the use of the pill to induce abortions. It is now used more commonly than surgical abortion. Courts are split on whether this amounts to an undue restriction on abortion rights.