First, we hope everyone is safe following this afternoon’s tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. The AACF staff have all made it home safely. Our thoughts are with those who have suffered injuries, damage and losses.
As legislators attempt to wrap things up to end the session as early as April 7, we can expect to see bills either rushed through or left in the dust. It’s still possible they could extend the session beyond next week, but lawmakers have been meeting late into the evening to hurry things along.
Looming large on our radar is the late-to-the-party filing of the tax cut bill we’ve heard rumblings about for months. Gov. Sanders and several legislators held a press conference Thursday to announce their plan to cut the top personal income tax and corporate income tax rates. More details are below, but here are some links to dig into if you’re interested: Arkansas Advocate, Associated Press, and Talk Business & Politics. And here’s AACF Senior Policy Analyst Bruno Showers’ timely op-ed from this week on the problems with major income tax cuts, generally.
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.
Scheduled: Rep. DeAnn Vaught and Sen. Clarke Tucker filed HB1775 on Wednesday. This bill would create foster care leave for state employees and allow employees to have up to 40 hours of foster care leave per calendar year with pay when a child in foster care has been placed in the home of the employee. It is on the agenda of the House Committee on Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs for 10am on Monday, April 3.
Assigned: Sen. Missy Irvin and Rep. Jimmy Gazaway are the co-sponsors of SB426. This bill would extend maternity leave for state employees to include placement of an adoptive child under 1 year of age and foster placement of an infant under 1 year. It is assigned to the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs.
Democracy and Voting Rights
Delivered to Governor: 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 full Senate on Monday and has been delivered to the Governor to be signed into law.
Scheduled: Sen. Jim Petty is the sponsor of SB331. This bill would provide $25 million for out of school programs across the state of Arkansas. This includes after school and summer programs that are proven to be effective at increasing student achievement, career readiness, and literacy while also decreasing dropout rates. It passed the Joint Budget Committee on Thursday and is on the Senate Budget Calendar for Monday, April 3.
New Bill: Rep. Jimmy Gazaway filed HB1791 on Wednesday. This bill would require that public schools conduct an assessment of a student’s adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) before disciplining them. If an adverse childhood experience is determined to have a direct and substantial causal relationship to the behavior of the student, the school district will be required to provide the student with behavioral supports that the school district determines are appropriate. It is assigned to the House Education Committee.
Scheduled: HB1576, co-sponsored by Rep. Jamie Scott and Sen. Breanne Davis, 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 schools and institutions of higher education. The bill is named the CROWN Act – for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” It passed the full House on Tuesday and is on the agenda of the Senate Education Committee at 9:30am on Monday, April 3.
New Bill: Rep. Denise Garner and Sen. Greg Leding filed HB1761 on Tuesday. This bill would require a person who is not licensed to sell guns to request a background check through a licensed firearm dealer on any sale or transfer of a gun to a person who is not licensed to ensure that people who are prohibited from owning guns, including convicted felons and domestic abusers, are unable to obtain firearms in this manner. It is assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.
Scheduled: Rep. Tippi McCullough filed HB1796 on Thursday. This bill would provide a sales tax holiday from July 1, 2023 through June 30, 2024 for purchases of a gun safe or gun safety device. Gun safes and devices equipped or installed on a firearm that permits a user to program the firearm to operate only for specified persons will be exempt from state sales tax during this year-long period. It is on the agenda of the House Committee on Revenue and Taxation at 10am on Tuesday, April 4.
New Bill: Rep. Tippi McCullough and Sen. Greg Leding filed HB1797 on Thursday. This bill would allow a court to issue an emergency risk protection order and to grant a warrant to law enforcement that will allow them to temporarily remove guns from a person known to possess them and who poses a risk of imminent personal injury to himself, herself, or to another person. A person who has their guns confiscated under this bill has the right to a hearing within three days to determine whether the guns should be returned, or if proven to be a risk, the gun may be held for a period of not more than a year. A person filing a false report under this section of the law would be subject to potential criminal charges and civil liability. It is assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.
Family Economic Security
New Bill: Sen. Greg Leding filed SB522 on Wednesday. This bill would require employers to provide employees with pay stubs in either paper or electronic format. This legislation would ensure employees get paid what they are owed. It is assigned to the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.
Progressed: Sen. Jonathan Dismang is the sponsor of SB306. This bill would, pending federal approval, allow the Department of Human Services to exempt families from the federal resource limit under certain circumstances. It would set Arkansas’s asset limit for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously known as “food stamps”) to the federal rate and allow a family whose assets exceed that level a temporary limit of $5,500 for one year. The bill passed the House Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee on Tuesday and the full House on Thursday. It was amended this week, so it will go back to the Senate before being delivered to the Governor.
Progressed: Sen. Dismang and Rep. Vaught’s SB477, cosponsored by most members of the Legislature, would ensure that students who qualify for reduced-price school meals would not be charged for them. They’d receive free meals instead, with the price difference made up with state dollars. The bill passed easily passed the Senate on Thursday. It is now assigned to the House Education Committee.
Scheduled: Rep. Aaron Pilkington filed HB1787 on Wednesday. It would allow the state to speed up the process for approval of pregnancy Medicaid applications, allowing pregnant women to get prenatal care services more quickly. It is on the agenda of the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor for 10am on Tuesday, April 4.
Progressed: Rep. Aaron Pilkington is the sponsor of HB1011. This bill would require Medicaid to reimburse providers for depression screening during someone’s pregnancy. It passed the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Tuesday and the full House on Wednesday. It is now assigned to the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.
Scheduled: HB1574 is sponsored by Rep. DeAnn Vaught and Sen. Kim Hammer. The bill would provide a Medicaid supplemental reimbursement rate for pediatric primary care physicians enrolled in the patient-centered medical home program for integrated behavioral health services to better address the child mental health crisis in Arkansas. It passed the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Tuesday, the full House on Wednesday, and the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Friday (today!). It is on the agenda of the Senate Chamber for 12pm on Monday, April 3.
Scheduled: Rep. Grant Hodges filed HB1754 on Tuesday. It would eliminate fees and fines in the juvenile court system, while still requiring young people to make restitution to victims in delinquency cases. It’s on the agenda of the House Committee on Aging, Children and Youth, and Military Affairs at 10am on Monday, April 3.
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.
Now Law: Sen. Bart Hester and Rep. Charlene Fite’s SB346 is now Act 363. This new law makes 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 allows a relative or fictive kin (someone not biologically or legally related, but with a close emotional relationship) 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 changes the word “visitation” to “family time.”
Now Law: Sen. Bart Hester and Rep. Charlene Fite’s SB347 is now Act 364. The new law 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.
Scheduled: SB390 is sponsored by Sen. Clint Penzo and Rep. Rebecca Burkes. 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. It passed the full Senate on Thursday and is on the agenda of the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee for 10am on Tuesday, April 4.
Democracy and Voting Rights
Progressed: Sen. Clarke Tucker’s SB285 would allow a student to have an excused absence if they accompany their parent or guardian to vote. It passed the Senate Education Committee on Monday and the full Senate on Wednesday. It is now assigned to the House Education Committee.
Delivered to Governor: Rep. Austin McCollum and Sen. Kim Hammer are the co-sponsors of HB1512. This bill will 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 full Senate on Monday and has been delivered to the Governor to be signed into law.
Now Law: Rep. Shad Pearce and Sen. Blake Johnson’s HB1393 is now Act 290. This new law designates the first week of May to be mental health awareness week in Arkansas public schools. Read an article about this bill here.
Now Law: Rep. Denise Ennett and Sen. Linda Chesterfield’s HB1315 is now Act 286. The new law requires public schools to create a seizure safety plan to support students with seizure disorders. Each public school will need to have two trained individuals who can administer FDA approved medication or provide the appropriate care for a student having a seizure. It also requires each public school district to develop an age-appropriate seizure education program.
Progressed, but Stalled: Rep. R Scott Richardson’s HB1511 would require that an electronic child safety alarm be installed in public or charter school buses. It passed the Senate Education Committee on Monday but failed to get enough votes on the Senate floor on Tuesday. It’s possible the bill could be voted on again before the session is over.
Scheduled: Rep. DeAnn Vaught is the sponsor of HB1538, which would adjust the professional development requirements for public school teachers as well as mandate that private school teachers have the same requirements. It passed the House Education Committee on Thursday and is on the agenda for the full House at 1:30pm on Monday, April 3.
Progressed: Sen. Clarke Tucker and Rep. Vivian Flowers are the co-sponsors of SB364. This bill would establish a protocol for school districts to return to local control after being under the control of the state board for five years. It passed the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday and the full Senate on Thursday. It is now assigned to the House Education Committee.
Scheduled: Rep. Mary Bentley and Sen. Breanne Davis are the co-sponsors of HB1526. This bill would require that school health curriculum include information about the benefits of breastfeeding. It passed the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday and is on the agenda of the full Senate at 12pm on Monday, April 3.
Scheduled: Rep. Julie Mayberry and Sen. Kim Hammer are the co-sponsors of HB1447. This bill would change the classification of school nurses and increase their pay to a minimum base salary that is at least equal to the minimum base salary required for classroom teachers. It passed the House Education Committee on Thursday and is on the agenda of the full House at 1:30pm on Monday, April 3.
Progressed: Rep. Tara Shephard’s HB1514 would require that public high schools and state supported institutions of higher education have opioid overdose rescue kits available. It passed the House Education Committee on Thursday and will go next to the full House for consideration.
Now Law: Rep. Aaron Pilkington and Sen. Missy Irvin’s HB1035 is now Act 316. The new law requires insurance providers and Medicaid to cover depression screening for all mothers at the time of birth.
Scheduled: 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 was amended this week in the Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee and passed the full Senate on Thursday. It is on the agenda of the House Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee at 10am on Tuesday, April 4.
Scheduled: HB1129, co-sponsored by Rep. Lee Johnson and Sen. Missy Irvin, would allow for integrated behavioral health services within primary care physicians’ clinics and hospital outpatient clinics. These settings would be able to provide behavioral health screenings and services for behavioral health conditions, which would be reimbursed by Medicaid and insurance companies. The bill passed the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Thursday and is on the agenda of the full Senate at 12pm on Monday, April 3.
Scheduled: 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 Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Thursday and is on the agenda of the full Senate at 12pm on Monday, April 3.
Scheduled: HB1385 is sponsored by Rep. DeAnn Vaught and Sen. Breanne Davis. This bill would ensure more women have access to long-acting contraceptives by improving Medicaid reimbursement rates to providers. The bill passed the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Thursday and is on the agenda of the full Senate at 12pm on Monday, April 3.
Scheduled: Rep. Bart Schulz and Sen. Ben Gilmore are the co-sponsors of HB1562. This bill would ensure that medicines to help reverse the effects of opioid overdoses, such as naloxone, are more widely available and accessible to people at risk of experiencing or witnessing an overdose. It passed the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Thursday and is on the agenda of the full Senate at 12pm on Monday, April 3.
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.
Scheduled: Rep. Robin Lundstrum and Sen. Gary Stubblefield are the co-sponsors of HB1615. This bill would make it easier for state-funded organizations to discriminate against others based on the organizations’ religious beliefs. For example, a religious adoption agency could deny a gay couple the ability to adopt, and the state would be unable to intercede. It passed the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday and is on the agenda of the full House at 1:30pm on Monday, April 3.
Democracy and Voting Rights
Now Law: Sen. Tyler Dees and Rep. Rebecca Burkes’ SB258 is now Act 353. Though no counties currently use ballot drop off boxes, the new law prevents the future use of ballot drop boxes regardless of potential need or security measures in place. Read an article on this bill here.
Scheduled: 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 House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday and is on the agenda of the full House at 1:30pm on Monday, April 3.
Scheduled: SB431, co-sponsored 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 is on the agenda of the Senate Judiciary Committee at 10am on Monday, April 3.
Scheduled: Rep. Austin McCollum and Sen. Jim Petty are the co-sponsors of HB1513. This bill would create an Election Integrity Unit within the state Attorney General’s office. Election fraud is exceedingly rare, and can already be prosecuted under current law. The bill was amended this week and is on the schedule for the full Senate at 1:30pm on Monday, April 3.
Delivered to Governor: 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 Senate Judiciary as amended on Monday and passed the full Senate on Tuesday. It has been delivered to the Governor to be signed into law.
Delivered to Governor: HB1534 is co-sponsored by Rep. Bruce Cozart and Sen. Jane English. This bill would do away with school board zones, regardless of the overall district population, moving instead to each school board seat being considered “at large.” This would effectively eliminate fair representation in school board elections. It passed the Senate Education Committee on Monday and the full Senate on Tuesday. It has been delivered to the Governor to be signed into law.
Passed, as amended: Rep. Mindy McAlindon and Sen. Kim Hammer are the co-sponsors of HB1559. This bill would make it so that public schools generally 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 the full House on Monday, was amended and passed in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday and passed the full Senate, as amended, on Thursday. The amendment does allow implicit bias training to be required if 95% of it “is required by an accreditor, grantor, or licensor.” The amended version will go back to the House side for approval before being sent to the Governor. Read the latest article on this bill here.
Scheduled: 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. After being taken off “the table” two weeks ago, it is on the schedule for the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee for 10 minutes after the House Chamber adjourns on Monday, April 3. Read an article on this bill here.
Now Law: Rep. Mary Bentley and Sen. Dan Sullivan’s HB1156 is now Act 317. The new law requires 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. Read an article on this bill here.
Scheduled: 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 full House on Monday. AACF Education Policy Director Olivia Gardner testified against the bill before it passed the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday and is on the schedule for the full Senate at 1:30pm on Monday, April 3. Read the latest on this bill here.
Passed, heavily amended: SB270 is co-sponsored by Sen. John Payton and Rep. Cindy Crawford. As originally written, this bill would have criminalized transgender people for using restrooms that correspond with their gender identity if a minor were present. After great outcry and public testimony, as well as pleas from fellow committee members, the bill was amended in and passed by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. As amended, the bill makes it illegal for an adult to enter or remain in a public bathroom for sexual purposes while knowingly in the presence of a minor of the opposite sex. It passed the full House on Thursday and will return to the Senate before being delivered to the Governor. Read an article on the changes to the bill here. And another here.
Family Economic Security
Scheduled: 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 the Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee on Thursday and is on the schedule for the full Senate at 1:30pm on Monday, April 3.
Scheduled: Sen. Joshua Bryant and Rep. Brit McKenzie are the co-sponsors of SB197. This bill would take away the ability of local governments to set housing and rental policies that work best in their communities. It failed to pass out of the House City, County and Local Affairs Committee on Wednesday but is again on the committee agenda for 10am on Monday, April 3. Read an article on the bill here.
Tax and Budget
Scheduled: Rep. David Ray is the sponsor of HB1454. This bill would let businesses take a tax break normally reserved for individual taxpayers. It passed the House Committee on Revenue and Taxation on Tuesday and the full House on Wednesday. It is on the agenda of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee for 10am on Monday April 3.
Scheduled: Sen. Jonathan Dismang and Rep. Les D. Eaves are the co-sponsors of SB549, Governor Sanders’ first tax cut bill of her administration. The bill would lower the top personal income tax rate from 4.9% to 4.7%, and the top corporate income tax rate from 5.3% to 5.1%. According to an estimate by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the bill will cost the state $139 million. It is on the agenda of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee for 10am on Monday, April 3.
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