This was a challenging week for many child advocates around the state. Arkansas LEARNS is all but guaranteed to pass, without addressing key concerns from community members and even legislators. The future of Arkansas’s public school system is in the air, and we’ll be monitoring closely the effect that this legislation has on our state’s constitutional mandate to provide an adequate and equitable education to every Arkansas child.
If you keep up with AACF on social media, you’ll know we pushed hard to defeat a bill loosening our state’s child labor laws. It was wild to listen to adults argue in favor of eliminating a one-page form that helps the Department of Labor ensure young workers aren’t being exploited. While we were ultimately unsuccessful in this case, we are bolstered by the many voices that joined us in trying to protect vulnerable Arkansas children. Read our message on our website.
It’s never all bad news, though. We’ve seen a couple of good bills that expand access to voting and that help pregnant and parenting students stay in school become law. As always, we will keep taking the wins where we can and looking for more ways to make Arkansas a better place to be and raise a child.
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
Scheduled: Rep. Andrew Collins and Sen. Jim Dotson are the co-sponsors of HB1325. This bill would require counties to have more consistent early voting hours between different polling sites. It is on the agenda of the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs at 10am on Tuesday, March 7.
New Bill: Rep. Andrew Collins and Sen. Clarke Tucker filed HB1537 on Thursday. If this bill passes, Arkansas will join 42 other states in providing online voter registration. It is assigned to the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee.
New Bill: Sen. Jim Petty filed SB331 on Monday. 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 is assigned to the Joint Budget Committee.
Scheduled: Sen. Jonathan Dismang filed SB306 last week. This bill would, pending federal approval, raise Arkansas’s asset limit for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously known as “food stamps”) to $12,500, to be adjusted for inflation every other year. It would also prohibit the state from adopting a gross income limit stricter than the federal limit. It is on the agenda of the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee for 10am on Monday, March 6.
Delivered to the Governor: Rep. Dwight Tosh and Sen. David Wallace are the co-sponsors of HB1340. This bill would require the Department of Human Services to apply for a waiver from the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service to exempt certain veterans’ benefits from being used as income for purposes of receiving SNAP.The bill passed the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Wednesday and the full Senate on Thursday. It now goes to the Governor to be signed into law.
Scheduled: Rep. Andrew Pilkington’s bill, HB1010, would provide mothers on Medicaid with coverage for 12 months after giving birth, without interruption. The bill is on the agenda of the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee for 10am on Tuesday, March 7.
Scheduled: Rep. Andrew Pilkington is also the sponsor of HB1011. This bill would require Medicaid to reimburse providers for depression screening during someone’s pregnancy. It is on the agenda of the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee for 10am on Tuesday, March 7.
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.
New Bill: Sen. Bart Hester and Rep. Charlene Fite filed SB346 on Wednesday. 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.” It is assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
New Bill: Sen. Bart Hester and Rep. Charlene Fite filed SB347 on Wednesday. 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. It is assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Democracy and Voting Rights
New Bill: Rep. Austin McCollum and Sen. Kim Hammer filed HB1512 on Tuesday. This bill would remove a requirement that registered Arkansas voters living overseas, such as members of the military, have to request their absentee ballot 30 days before the election for their ballot to be counted. It is assigned to the House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs.
Education, Early Childhood
New Bill: Sen. Missy Irvin and Rep. Julie Mayberry filed SB352 on Thursday. This bill would create an income tax incentive for employers who contribute to an employee’s dependent care assistance fund. The money could be used to pay for child care or other qualified expenses. It is assigned to the Senate Revenue and Tax Committee.
Progressed: 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 House on Monday. It is now assigned to the Senate Education Committee. Read an article about this bill here.
Now Law: Rep. Ashley Hudson and Sen. Clarke Tucker’s HB1161 is now Act 128. This new law will support pregnant and parenting students by allowing for related excused absences and by giving pregnant and parenting students the flexibility to complete missed school work. Read an article about this bill here.
Amended: 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. The bill picked up an amendment in the House Education Committee on Monday and passed the committee as amended on Thursday. The amendment requires each public school district to develop an age-appropriate seizure education program.
Scheduled: Rep. Bruce Cozart and Sen. Kim Hammer’s HB1336 aims to 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 Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. It is on the agenda for the full Senate at 1pm on Monday, March 6. Read an article on this bill here (below the fold).
New Bill: Rep. R Scott Richardson filed HB1511 on Tuesday. This bill would require that an electronic child safety alarm be installed in public or charter school buses. It is assigned to the House Education Committee.
New Bill: Rep. Tara Shephard filed HB1514 on Tuesday. This bill would require that public high schools and state supported institutions have overdose rescue kits available. It is assigned to the House Education 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.
Delivered to Governor: Rep. Rebecca Burkes and Sen. Clint Penzo’s HB1410 will remove a requirement for employers to obtain a permit to hire a worker younger than 16. It will dispense with the state requirement to document the child’s age, hours worked, and most importantly, parental permission. It passed the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor on Wednesday and the full Senate on Thursday. It now goes to the Governor to be signed into law. Read our blog post on this bill here. Here’s a recent article in Arkansas Business on the bill’s passage. And here’s another.
Democracy and Voting Rights
Scheduled: HB1419, co-sponsored by Rep. Kendon Underwood and Sen. Jim Dotson, would drastically increase the number of counties that petition signatures must be collected from to put a measure on the ballot for voters’ consideration. The bill passed the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs on Thursday. It is on the agenda of the full Senate for 1pm on Monday, March 6. Read an article on the bill here.
New Bill: Rep. Austin McCollum and Sen. Jim Petty filed HB1513 on Tuesday. 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. It is assigned to the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Scheduled: SB294 is co-sponsored by Sen. Breanne Davis and Rep. Keith Brooks. This is Gov. Sanders’ education omnibus bill, Arkansas LEARNS. This bill would overhaul Arkansas’s education system and create an unlimited voucher system through state-funded educational freedom accounts. Families would be able to use these funds to pay for private school or homeschool, and over time it would decrease funding for public education. It would raise the minimum teacher salary to $50,000 but does little to address the average teacher salary for existing teachers, and it also repeals the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act. After many hours of public testimony and debate, including testimony from AACF Education Policy Director Olivia Gardner, it passed the House Education Committee on Wednesday, and the full House voted to pass it, with an amendment. It will go back to the Senate Education Committee 15 minutes after the Senate Chamber adjourns on Monday, March 6, to have the amendments approved. Read our blog post about the bill here. Read an updated article here. And another one here.
Scheduled: 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 felony criminal charges to be brought against librarians who loan to minors books determined to be “obscene.” The bill is on the agenda of the House Judiciary Committee as a Special Order of Business for 9am Tuesday, March 7. Read an article on the 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. It has been sent back to the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee for amendment, and it is on the agenda for 10am on Tuesday, March 7. Read an article on this bill here.
Family Economic Security
Scheduled: Rep. Rebecca Burkes and Sen. Clint Penzo are the co-sponsors of HB1401. This bill would limit 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. It is on the agenda of the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee for 10am on Monday, March 6.
Delivered to Governor: Rep. Robin Lundstrum and Sen. Kim Hammer are the co-sponsors of HB1430. This bill will reduce the maximum length of unemployment benefits from 16 weeks to 12 weeks, making Arkansas tied for the shortest duration in the nation. It passed the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Wednesday and the full Senate on Thursday. It will go next to the Governor to be signed into law.
Assigned: Rep. Delia J. Haak and Sen. Joshua Bryant are the co-sponsors of HB1305. This bill would limit youth aged 16 and 17 from being able to consent for their own medical treatment. This bill would require youth aged 16 and 17 to have parental or guardian consent for all medical treatment regarding their personal health needs. It is assigned to the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.
Now Law: Rep. Kendon Underwood and Sen. Ben Gilmore’s HB1196 is now Act 160. The new law will add red tape to public housing, pending federal approval, by creating a stringent work-reporting requirement without any investment in supportive services. Read our blog post on this bill. And an article about this bill here.
How You Can Help
- Sign up for Action Alerts, if you haven’t already. By subscribing to this list, you will be notified when we need you to take action, like emailing or calling your legislator, on a specific issue or piece of legislation. You will also receive weekly legislative updates during the session. Find out what bills were filed or made progress during the week at the Arkansas Capitol.
- Join our Facebook Group, Arkansas’s Capitol Advocates. This is a group where advocates for children and families are gathering to talk about how to move important issues and legislation forward and share best practices.
- Attend our events. These are a great way to stay current on our advocacy work and that of our statewide partners.
- Donate. The work our staff does during the legislative session is often not paid for by grants, and we do not receive any state or federal funding. We rely on donors like you to help us be effective advocates at the Arkansas Capitol.