Arkansas Advocates 2021 Legislative Session Recap, Vol. 1

The Arkansas General Assembly convened on Monday, but this year’s session will look different from any we’ve ever seen. With the pandemic raging, the legislature has adopted new procedures to minimize the spread of the virus. The Governor kicked off the session with his State of the State speech, where he highlighted the need for state hate crimes legislation. And with hundreds of bills already filed, legislation has begun to move through committees. If you want to learn more about major legislation impacting kids and families that will be considered this year and how to lobby at the Capitol, sign up to attend virtual Kids Count Week “at” the Capitol events.

Below you will find an overview of bills filed since the prefiling period last November that Arkansas Advocates either supports or opposes. We are monitoring many more bills, listed and frequently updated on our website. More information on AACF’s overall legislative priorities is here.

Bills AACF Supports

Food Security

HB 1009, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, would allow public schools to distribute excess food to students for consumption at home or on campus. It’s been assigned to the House Committee on Education.

K-12 Education

HB 1102 would require additional training and information for public school board members on school safety and student discipline and would mandate additional school district reporting requirements in this area. The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Brian Evans and Sen. James Sturch and has been assigned to the House Committee on Education.

HB 1151 was filed by Rep. Brian Evans and Sen. Lance Eads. The bill would require that the public school rating system be suspended for the 2020-21 school year. It is assigned to the House Committee on Education.

Rep. David Tollett filed HB 1157, which would increase the state personal income deduction for teachers’ qualified classroom investment expenses from $250 to $500 for each taxpayer, or from $500 to $1,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly, if each spouse is a taxpayer. It has been assigned to the House Committee on Revenue and Taxation.

Rep. Tollett also filed HB 1169 to reduce the requirements for voluntary teacher retirement for teachers who taught during the 2020-21 school year. The bill is assigned to the House Committee on Education.

HB 1170, also filed by Rep. Tollett, would change the date that teachers must be able to demonstrate proficiency in the science of reading instruction from the 2021-2022 school year to the 2022-23 school year. The bill has been assigned to the House Committee on Education.

Sen. Jane English filed SB 31, which would amend the components of the college and career assessments by including assessments that lead to a nationally recognized work readiness certificate. It has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee.

SB 107, co-sponsored by Sen. Jane English and Rep. DeeAnn Vaught, would require that (1) each public high school provide a high quality computer science class tailored to meet the needs of each participating student and (2) each public high school to employ a computer science teacher. The bill is assigned to the Senate Education Committee.

Health Care

Reps. Lee Johnson and Aaron Pilkington, along with Sen. Breanne Davis, filed HB 1176, which would authorize Arkansas Medicaid to keep the behavioral and mental health services telemedicine changes made during the pandemic and make them permanent. The bill would ensure that providers will continue to be paid for providing telemedicine services to people receiving Medicaid. It has been assigned to the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.

Tax & Budget

Sen. Dave Wallace has filed SB 10, which would provide targeted tax relief to working low- and middle-income families. It has been assigned to the Senate Revenue and Tax Committee.

Racial Equity

Sen. Jim Hendren and Rep. Fred Love are the primary co-sponsors of “Hate Crimes” bills SB 3 and HB 1020. They have bipartisan co-sponsors for a law that would increase penalties by no more than 20 percent for crimes in which an offender targets a victim because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religion, homelessness or military services. Arkansas is one of only three states that doesn’t have such a law on the books. The bills are assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Judiciary Committee, respectively.

Rep. Fred Allen filed HB 1029, which would add John Walker to the list of civil rights leaders in the teaching materials regarding African American history in public schools. John W. Walker (1937-2019) was a lawyer who emerged from segregated schools and society in southwestern Arkansas to wage a 60-year war on discrimination in Arkansas’s education systems, public institutions and workforce. From 2011 until his death, Walker was a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives. He received numerous awards during his lifetime and was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. The bill has It’s been assigned to the House Committee on Education.

HB 1007, also sponsored by Rep. Love, would create a new Arkansas State Police division to investigate alleged abuses of power by law enforcement. It would establish a hotline for reporting alleged abuses and would create a searchable database of officers who have been accused. The bill is assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.

Bills AACF Opposes

Democracy and Voting Rights

HB 1112, filed by Rep. Mark Lowery, would amend the state constitution to effectively end the right to vote for people without certain forms of ID. Right now, people can vote in person or absentee provisionally by signing a sworn affidavit to affirm their identity. The county clerks then verify the voters’ identities using voter registration records, and the election commissioners then count the ballots based on the clerks’ recommendation from reviewing those records. This would end the option to sign an affidavit, so that people who do not own a qualifying ID could no longer exercise their right vote. If you own an ID and forgot to bring it to the polls or submit it with your absentee ballot, you could vote provisionally and submit your ID to the county clerk or election commission office by 12:00 noon on the Monday following the election. The bill has been assigned to the House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs.

K-12 Education

HB 1101, filed by Rep. Brian Evans and Sen. James Sturch, would increase the number of signatures required to petition a local school district board to meet, from the current 50 qualified electors in the school district, to whichever is greater: 50 qualified electors in the district or 2 percent of the qualified electors in the school district. It is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Education on Tuesday, January 19.

Racial Equity

SB 24, filed by Sen. Bob Ballinger and Rep. Aaron Pilkington, would remove the duty to retreat, under certain circumstances, from Arkansas’s self-defense law. The so-called “Stand Your Ground” bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It is scheduled to be heard on the Senate Floor on Tuesday, January 19 at 1pm.