Last updated on Feb. 11.
Change the function of the legislature. A pernicious anti-government bill filed by Majority Leader Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Hot Springs) that caps state spending increases by 3 percent a year, or, if the three-year spending average has been less than 3 percent, that lower figure. It’s unnecessary; the legislature already controls spending. But it could hamper future legislatures in times of economic prosperity. There’d be no room for the likes of economic development, raises for public employees or fulfilling funding requests from higher education.
Drug tests for unemployment benefits. Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock), in the news lately for using campaign money to pay a mistress, started his image rehabilitation tour with this bill, which requires drug testing of all unemployment compensation applicants and random drug testing thereafter of beneficiaries. This is right-wing cookie-cutter legislation that’s been demonstrated elsewhere to be ineffective and costly. A Little Rock attorney has already promised to sue the state on Fourth Amendment grounds of the bill passes.
Guns in church. Sen. Bryan King (R-Green Forest) is back again with a bill that would allow concealed handguns in churches. Like all private property owners, churches would be allowed to prohibit guns, though, of course, they’d be doing so at their own peril. A church without an arsenal is a target, don’t you know? Passed into law (2/11).
More charter schools. Republicans abhor government bureaucracy unless it serves their purposes. This bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Mark Biviano (R-Searcy) and Sen. Bruce Holland (R-Greenwood), strips the state Board of Education its oversight of charter schools in favor of a newly created five-member charter school commission. The Board of Education has been generally fair and receptive to the establishment and continuation of charter schools; the Billionaire Boys Club — rich charter school advocates from the Walton, Murphy, Stephens and Hussman families — clearly doesn’t think it has done enough.
20-week abortion ban. This proposal, sponsored by Rep. Andy Mayberry and Sen. Bart Hester with 56 co-sponsors, is yet another move by Republicans to control women’s bodies. Billed as the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” the bill would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks, a time when a fetus can begin to feel pain, according to the authors of the bill. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists says that doesn’t happen until at least 24 weeks. Legal consensus holds that restricting abortions before viability — defined by medical experts as 23 or 24 weeks — is unconstitutional. Nonetheless, a number of states have recently passed similar measures. A challenge to an Arizona 20-week ban is currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. It’s expected to overturn the law. Passed in the House (2/4).
Voter ID. Sen. Bryan King has proposed two voter ID bills — one that would require voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polls and another that would refer a constitutional amendment, which would enshrine voter ID law into the state constitution, to voters. According to a database of alleged election fraud compiled by News21, there have only been six cases of alleged election fraud in Arkansas since 2000, and none of the alleged fraud would’ve been prevented by King’s proposed law. There’s no evidence that in-person voter fraud exists by any real measure anywhere (impersonating someone at the polls isn’t a very efficient way to steal an election after all). There is, however, plenty of evidence that voter ID laws suppress votes, especially minorities, the poor and the elderly.
Fetal heartbeat abortion ban. Last year, Sen. Jason Rapert proposed a bill that would have required doctors providing abortions to test for a detectible fetal heartbeat in pregnant women. It failed when the Times and others pointed out that, for many women, such a test would involve insertion of a wand into a woman’s vagina against her will. Unmoved, Rapert is back again with a new bill that requires similar testing. But now, under Rapert’s bill, abortion would be prohibited if a fetal heartbeat is detected. This is almost certainly unconstitutional for all the same reasons the 20-week ban above is. Nonetheless, it’s also been introduced in Mississippi and Wyoming as well. Passed the Senate and amended in the House Public Health Committee (2/8) to move the requirement for testing a heartbeat to 12 weeks and beyond. Despite Rapert’s claim, it’s still patently unconstitutional.
Considering a fetus a “child.” Rep. Justin Harris proposed this personhood measure in disguise, which would redefine the definition of a child from birth to 18 to the time a fetal heartbeat can be detected until 18. It requires medical professionals to report pregnant women for child abuse for consuming alcohol or other narcotics. This would discourage women with addiction problems to seek prenatal care or drug treatment, discourage pregnant women from disclosing vital information about substance use to healthcare providers, and incentivize pregnant women with drug problems to terminate a wanted pregnancy rather than face drug charges. There is no additional funding in the bill for treatment for pregnant women or their children in this situation. It would just put pregnant women in jail (or a mother in jail after the child was born). There’s an exception for substances doctors have advised are safe, but what happens when the first part of the bill enters legal code? Tax deductions for fetuses?
No transparency for concealed carry Sen. Bruce “Fireball” Holland proposed this bill to make the list of concealed gun permit holders secret. He was inspired by the publication in New York of names and addresses of permit holders. Here in Arkansas, they only list zip codes, so Holland’s concern seems ill-founded. The downside: these lists have been a powerful check on law enforcement’s often-spotty work on background checks. Why should gun owners get secrecy not afforded to dozens of other sorts of public records that the government maintains? Meanwhile, what are gun owners so afraid of? Don’t guns make you safer? Passed Senate 24-9 (2/6)
No coverage for medically necessary abortions Pro-life Democrat Butch Wilkins proposed a bill that was redundant in its purpose — making sure public money didn’t go toward abortions — but puts a heavy burden on pregnant women who get health insurance on the exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act.
The bill prohibits policies offered on the exchange from covering non-elective abortions. (No insurance policies cover elective abortion.) The federal health care law that allowed the insurance exchanges already prohibits federal dollars from being spent on abortion. Women who are part of the exchange would be able to buy insurance that would cover abortion, but the portion of the cost that would apply to a medically necessary abortion would be figured independently to insure only the buyer’s money, and not federal dollars, is being spent. Should Wilkins’ bill become law, women who are insured through the exchange won’t be able, with their own money, to insure themselves against potentially enormous hospital bills that could result from procedures necessary to preserve their lives.