Arkansas Advocates 2023 Legislative Session Recap, Vol. 10

Heading into the Legislature’s Spring Break, the pace of work picked up at the Capitol this week. Lawmakers and advocates alike want to get their priorities moving before we get too far in a session that could end as early as April 7th. 

We were happy to see some really good legislation make progress, like a bill to allow Arkansans with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to save more money for emergencies or other family needs. Legislation to create criminal penalties for child labor violations cleared committee, and we were thankful that an attempt to make it harder to circulate citizen initiative petitions failed in committee. And a highlight of the week – and maybe the session – was seeing our colleague, AACF Government Affairs Director Val Habrock, “dolled up” to testify in favor of a statewide expansion of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which delivers books to young children to improve their chances of learning to read on time.


Of course, legislation harmful to kids and families moved forward this week as well. We were disappointed that the bill limiting school students’ bathroom use to the ones corresponding with their gender assigned at birth (HB1156) cleared its final legislative hurdle. And SB 71, which we hoped was dead, is unfortunately not. It’s the one that would outlaw programs targeted to improve outcomes and opportunities for historically excluded groups. A House committee tabled it early in the week but voted on Wednesday to place it back on the committee agenda. 

Fortunately, we have a little more time than usual to prepare for the legislative action to come. Lawmakers are taking off the whole week, so they won’t be back in session until March 27th. We’ll skip next week for the newsletter and see you back here on March 31st. 

Below you will find an overview of bills on AACF’s legislative agenda and that AACF generally either supports or opposes. We are monitoring more bills, listed and frequently updated on our website.

Bills on AACF’s Legislative Agenda

Through conversations with partners, advocates and young Arkansans, and through our own policy research, AACF has identified a series of policies that will improve the well-being of Arkansans. The following bills are in support of our 2023 legislative agenda. More information on AACF’s legislative priorities is here

Democracy and Voting Rights

Now Law: Rep. Andrew Collins and Sen. Jim Dotson’s HB1325 is now Act 263. This new law requires counties to have more consistent early voting hours between different polling sites.

Progressed: SB273 is sponsored by Sen. Jim Petty and Rep. Mindy McAlindon. This bill would make a few changes around voting centers (polling locations where any registered voter in a given county can vote) that would make it easier to vote. In runoff elections, it would require counties to try to ensure there is a voting center within the precinct for which the runoff election is taking place. The bill would also allow county boards of election commissioners to add additional voting centers less than 30 days before an election if they feel that the already established voting centers will not meet demand. It passed the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday with an amendment and will go next to the full House.


Progressed: HB1576 by Rep. Jamie Scott and Sen. Breanne Davis won committee approval this week. It would prohibit discrimination based on an individual’s natural, protective or cultural hairstyle. It would add such hairstyles to protections in the state Civil Rights Act and explicitly prohibit discrimination by employers, schools and institutions of higher education. The bill is named the CROWN Act – for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” It will next be heard on the House floor. 

Food Security

Progressed: Sen. Jonathan Dismang is the sponsor of SB306. This bill would, pending federal approval, raise Arkansas’s asset limit for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously known as “food stamps”) to $6,000, to be adjusted for inflation every other year. The bill passed out of both the Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee and the full Senate. It will next be considered by the House Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee.

Bills AACF Also Supports

The following are bills not formally on AACF’s legislative agenda but that AACF recognizes could have a positive impact on Arkansas’s children and families. 

Child Welfare

Delivered to Governor: Sen. Bart Hester and Rep. Charlene Fite are the co-sponsors of SB346. This bill would make several changes to foster care law, including allowing state-funded subsidies for children 18 to 21 years of age who participate in the extended foster care program and are not Title IV-E eligible. It would allow a relative or fictive kin who has his or her home opened as a provisional foster home to receive a monthly board payment from DCFS for no more than 6 months unless fully opened as a foster home. It would change the word “visitation” to “family time.” The bill passed through the General Assembly this week and has been delivered to the Governor. 

Delivered to Governor: Sen. Bart Hester and Rep. Charlene Fite are also the co-sponsors of SB347. This bill deletes the term “parental unfitness,” which is not defined in the law. It adds “grooming” to the definition of sexual abuse and defines it as knowingly disseminating to a child 13 years or younger visual or print medium depicting sexually explicit content. It requires the Child Abuse Hotline to accept reports from a medical provider concerning a child 11 or younger if there is documented evidence of the child being pregnant or having a sexually transmitted disease, despite insufficient evidence of child maltreatment. The bill passed through the General Assembly this week and has been delivered to the Governor.

Progressed: SB390 sponsored by Sen. Clint Penzo and Rep. Rebecca Burkes passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with amendments on Wednesday. As amended, the bill would create misdemeanor and felony criminal penalties for child labor violations (there are no criminal penalties now) and would increase the allowable amount of civil penalties, as well.

Democracy and Voting Rights

Progressed: Rep. Austin McCollum and Sen. Kim Hammer are the co-sponsors of HB1512. This bill would remove a requirement that registered Arkansas voters living overseas have to request their absentee ballot 30 days before the election for their ballot to be counted. It passed the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs on Thursday.

Education, K-12

Delivered to Governor: Rep. Shad Pearce and Sen. Blake Johnson are the co-sponsors of HB1393. This bill would designate the first week of May to be mental health awareness week in Arkansas public schools. It passed the full Senate on Monday and has been delivered to the Governor to be signed into law. Read an article about this bill here.

Delivered to Governor: Rep. Denise Ennett and Sen. Linda Chesterfield are the co-sponsors of HB1315, which would require public schools to create a seizure safety plan to support students with seizure disorders. Each public school would need to have two trained individuals who can administer FDA approved medication or provide the appropriate care for a student having a seizure. It would also require each public school district to develop an age-appropriate seizure education program. The bill passed the full Senate on Monday, March 13 and has been delivered to the Governor to be signed into law.

Now Law: Rep. Bruce Cozart and Sen. Kim Hammer’s HB1336 is now Act 243. The new law will create a 3-year pilot study that would start an agricultural education program in public elementary schools. The program would be based on the nationally recognized three-component model of school-based agricultural education. It passed the full Senate on Monday and was signed into law by the Governor. Read an article on this bill here (below the fold).

Progressed: SB416 sponsored by Sen. Clarke Tucker and Rep. Brian Evans would create a fund for the Imagination Library fund in Arkansas. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library sends an age appropriate book to children registered in the program from birth to five years old. The bill passed through the Senate this week and will next be considered by the House Education Committee.


Delivered to Governor: Rep. Aaron Pilkington and Sen. Missy Irvin’s HB1035 would require insurance providers and Medicaid to cover depression screening for all mothers at the time of birth. It passed in the Senate this week and was sent to the Governor for her signature. 

Progressed: HB1102, co-sponsored by Rep. Pilkington and Rep. Clint Penzo, would require that all newborns be screened at birth for medical conditions as recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It passed the House then the Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee and will next be considered by the full Senate.

Progressed: Rep. DeAnn Vaught and Sen. Clarke Tucker are the sponsors of HB1565. The bill would create the Arkansas Legislative Study on Mental and Behavioral Health to be conducted by the Joint House and Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committees. The study seeks to further address the mental health crisis in the state. It passed the House and will next be heard by the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.

Progressed: HB1385 sponsored by Rep. DeAnn Vaught and Sen. Breanne Davis, if passed, would ensure more women have access to long-acting contraceptives by improving Medicaid reimbursement rates to providers. The bill passed through the House this week and will next be heard by the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee. 

Bills AACF Opposes

The following are bills we believe would be harmful to our state, our state’s children and their families, and our state’s most vulnerable individuals.

Democracy and Voting Rights

Assigned: SB431 filed by Sen. Alan Clark and Rep. Tony Furman would end the ability for absentee voters to have “designated bearers” of their ballot. For instance, a person could not deliver to the County Clerk’s office the absentee ballots of their elderly parents, and a person could be charged with a felony if they did. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Delivered to Governor: Sen. Tyler Dees and Rep. Rebecca Burkes are the co-sponsors of SB258. Though no counties currently use ballot drop off boxes, this bill would prevent the future use of ballot drop boxes regardless of potential need or security measures in place. It passed the Senate as amended on Wednesday and has been delivered to the Governor to be signed into law. Read an article on this bill here.

Progressed: Sen. Jim Petty and Rep. Austin McCollum are the co-sponsors of SB272. This bill would allow political interference in elections by allowing the state Legislature’s Joint Performance Review Committee to refer specific counties’ elections to the state Election Commission for review. It would also require random checks of county election operations even if no potential violations were raised. It passed the Senate and has moved to the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Failed: HB1601 is sponsored by Rep. David Ray and Sen. John Payton. If this bill becomes law, each person who is paid to collect signatures for a ballot measure (a paid canvasser) will be required to attend a training and obtain a license from the Secretary of State before they can collect signatures. This bill would make it much harder to collect the required signatures within the required time-frame. It was assigned to the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee and failed in committee on Wednesday evening.


Progressed: SB81 is co-sponsored by Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Justin Gonzales. This bill would allow certain books to be banned in public libraries and schools and would allow criminal charges to be brought against librarians who loan to minors books determined to be “obscene.” It passed the House and has been re-referred to the Senate Judiciary as amended. 

Assigned: Rep. Mindy McAlindon is the sponsor of HB1559. This bill would make it so that public schools cannot require that teachers or staff take implicit bias training. The State Board of Education would also not be allowed to require implicit bias training for teacher licensure or professional development. It passed out of the House Education Committee and will be heard by the full House next.


Progressed: SB71 is co-sponsored by Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Marcus Richmond. This bill would prohibit state agencies from providing programs targeted toward historically excluded groups, including on the basis of race, gender, color, ethnicity, or national origin in matters of state employment, public education, or state procurement. This could result in the elimination of scholarships to Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native Americans who commit to teaching in the Delta; university retention programs for Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American students, faculty, and staff. It would also prevent programs designed to recruit more diverse staff in state government. Read an article on this bill here. Though the bill had been tabled, on Wednesday the bill was taken off “the table” by the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee. The bill is now on the deferred list for the committee, and will be considered by the committee at a later date.

Delivered to Governor: Rep. Mary Bentley and Sen. Dan Sullivan’s bill HB1156 will require students in public schools to use bathrooms or locker rooms based on their sex assigned at birth, effectively forcing transgender students into bathrooms that do not correspond with the gender they live in daily. It passed the full Senate on Monday and has been delivered to the Governor to be signed into law. Read an article on this bill here. 

Progressed: Rep. Wayne Long and Sen. Mark Johnson are the co-sponsors of HB1468. The bill was amended this week to be more restrictive than the original bill. If it passes, it would require school teachers and staff to misgender some nonbinary and transgender students and would prohibit them from using a student’s preferred name (unless it’s a direct derivative of the name listed on their birth certificate), without written permission from a parent or guardian. It would also prohibit schools from requiring staff members or students to use a student’s or staff person’s personal pronouns if the pronoun is not consistent with that individual’s gender assigned at birth, even if parental consent is given, in the case of a student. And it would allow for a civil cause of action to be filed if a person is harmed by a violation of the bill. It passed the House Education Committee on Tuesday and will be heard next by the full House. Read an article on this bill here. And watch a news story here.

Progressed: HB1049 is sponsored by Rep. Stephen Meeks. This bill would prohibit financial institutions from looking at a business’s environmental, social, and governance criteria; diversity, equity, and inclusive policies; political and ideological factors in deciding to provide services. This means that financial institutions cannot prioritize services to businesses that have good policies around diversity, equity, and inclusion; good governance policies; etc. They also could not refuse services to a business or organization that promotes policies that are racist or discriminatory, or even those that lack good policies around governance such as business ethics, anti-corruption, or accounting practices which could increase the financial institution’s risk in providing services. The bill was passed by the House Insurance and Commerce Committee on Tuesday.

Family Economic Security

Now Law: Rep. Rebecca Burkes and Sen. Clint Penzo’s HB1401 is now Act 266. This new law limits the assistance available to working families with children under 18 living in the home enrolled in the Transitional Employment Assistance or Work Pays programs by reducing the amount of time families with work-eligible adults can receive cash assistance from the current 24 months to just 12 months. 

Progressed: Rep. Rebecca Burkes and Sen. Clint Penzo are the sponsors of HB1575. This bill would create unreasonably stringent standards for people to access their unemployment insurance benefits. It passed through the House this week and has been referred to the Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee. 

Now Law: Rep. Robin Lundstrum and Sen. Kim Hammer’s HB1430 is now Act 196. This law reduces the maximum length of unemployment benefits from 16 weeks to 12 weeks, making Arkansas tied for the shortest duration in the nation. 


Now Law: Sen. Gary Stubblefield and Rep. Mary Bentley’s SB199 is now Act 274. This new law establishes stringent requirements for physicians who offer gender-affirming care to minors in Arkansas. It will be nearly impossible for parents to obtain gender-affirming care for their children. It will also be unlikely that physicians wishing to provide such care will be able to obtain or retain medical malpractice insurance. Read an article about this bill here. And another one here