If you want to know what’s happened in Arkansas this week, look to national media outlets. While Governor Sanders’ signing ceremony for Arkansas LEARNS made big news within the state, many eyes were on her signing the law rolling back child labor protection in Arkansas. See for reference: NBC, CBS, Wall Street Journal, NPR and Washington Post, to name a few biggies. Even Salon, Rolling Stone, Esquire and Vanity Fair took notice of this move to put business interests ahead of child safety. “Youth Hiring Act” is literally its name.
On the bright side, the same sponsors of the Youth Hiring Act filed a bill this week to strengthen penalties for child labor law violations. While we’re glad to see this bill and will support it, we would have preferred it to be in addition to the youth work permits the state will no longer require, rather than instead of. In Arkansas, businesses that exploit kids will have to pay the price, but not until after the harm has been done.
A few other bills we’re tracking became law this week, including one to make it easier for certain veterans to get food assistance (yay!), one to make it harder for everyday Arkansans to pass laws at the ballot box (nay!), and one to make Arkansas tied for the nation’s shortest duration for unemployment benefits (double nay).
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
Delivered to the Governor: 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 passed the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs on Tuesday and the full Senate on Wednesday. It will go next to the Governor to be signed into law.
Tabled: Rep. Andrew Collins and Sen. Clarke Tucker’s bill, HB1537, has been tabled in the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee pending a fiscal impact statement. If this bill passes, Arkansas will join 42 other states in providing online voter registration.
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 and will go next to the full House.
Scheduled: Rep. Jamie Scott and Sen. Breanne Davis filed HB1576 on Wednesday. This bill 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 Word for Natural Hair.” It is on the agenda of the House Judiciary Committee for 10am on Tuesday, March 14.
Now Law: Rep. Dwight Tosh and Sen. David Wallace are the co-sponsors of HB1340, which is now Act 201. The new law requires 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.
Scheduled: Rep. Aaron 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 14.
Scheduled: Rep. Aaron 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 14.
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.
Scheduled: 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.” It is on the agenda of the Senate Judiciary Committee for 10am on Monday, March 13.
Scheduled: 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. It is on the agenda of the Senate Judiciary Committee for 10am on Monday, March 13.
New Bill: Sen. Clint Penzo and Rep. Rebecca Burkes filed SB390 on Thursday. This bill would create misdemeanor criminal penalties for child labor violations (there are no criminal penalties now) and would increase the allowable amount of civil penalties, as well. It is assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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 House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs on Wednesday.
Scheduled: 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 on the agenda of the full Senate for 1pm on Monday, March 13. Read an article about this bill here.
Scheduled: 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 House on Monday and passed the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. It is on the agenda of the full Senate for 1pm on Monday, March 13.
Delivered to Governor: 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 full Senate on Monday and has been delivered to the Governor to be signed into law. Read an article on this bill here (below the fold).
Progressed: 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 House Education Committee on Tuesday and passed the full House on Thursday. It is now assigned to the Senate Education Committee.
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 is on the agenda of the House Education Committee for 10am on Monday, March 14.
Scheduled: Rep. Jamie Scott and Sen. Linda Chesterfield are the co-sponsors of HB1343. The bill would require evidence-based trauma-informed classroom instruction and recognition of behavioral reactions to trauma to be taught in teacher preparation programs. It is on the agenda of the House Education Committee for 10am on Monday, March 14.
Progressed: 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 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.
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 Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Thursday and will go next to the full House for consideration.
Progressed: 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 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.
Progressed: Rep. DeAnn Vaught and Sen. Clarke Tucker filed HB1565 on Tuesday. 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 Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Thursday and will go next to the full House.
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.
Now Law: Rep. Rebecca Burkes and Sen. Clint Penzo’s HB1410 is now Act 195. The new law 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. Read our blog post on this bill here. And our statement on its passage.
Democracy and Voting Rights
Progressed: 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 full Senate. It passed the House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs on Wednesday. It will go next to the full House for consideration. Read an article on this bill here.
Now Law: HB1419, co-sponsored by Rep. Kendon Underwood and Sen. Jim Dotson, is now Act 236. The new law drastically increases 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 full Senate on Monday and has been signed into law. Read an article on the bill here.
Progressed: 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. It passed the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday and will be heard next by the full Senate.
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.” The passed the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. It will go next to the full House for consideration. Read an article on the bill here.
Now Law: Initiated by Gov. Sanders, and co-sponsored by Sen. Breanne Davis and Rep. Keith Brooks, SB294 is now Act 237. Arkansas LEARNS will overhaul Arkansas’s education system and create an unlimited voucher system through state-funded educational freedom accounts. Families will be able to use these funds to pay for private school or homeschool, and over time it will decrease funding for public education. It will raise the minimum teacher salary to $50,000 but will do little to address the average teacher salary for existing teachers, and it repeals the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act. Read our blog post about the bill here. Read a news article here. And another here.
Progressed: 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 House Education Committee on Tuesday and the full House on Wednesday. It is now assigned to the Senate Education Committee.
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 passed the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday and the full Senate on Thursday. It is on the schedule for the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee for 15 minutes after the House Chamber adjourns on Monday, March 13. Read an article on this bill here.
Scheduled: Rep. Mary Bentley and Sen. Dan Sullivan’s bill HB1156 passed with a technical amendment in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. The bill would 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 is on the agenda for the full Senate at 1pm on Monday, March 13. 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 Thursday and will be heard next by the full House. Read an article on this bill here. And watch a news story here.
Scheduled: SB270 is co-sponsored by Sen. John Payton and Rep. Cindy Crawford. This bill would criminalize transgender people using restrooms that correspond with their gender identity. An adult that enters our remains in a restroom knowing a minor is present would be guilty of sexual indecency with a minor. The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday and the full Senate on Tuesday. It is on the agenda of the House Judiciary Committee for 10am on Tuesday, March 14.
Family Economic Security
Delivered to the Governor: Rep. Rebecca Burkes and Sen. Clint Penzo are the co-sponsors of HB1401. This bill will 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. AACF Senior Policy Analyst Bruno Showers testified against the bill in the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee before the bill passed on Wednesday. The bill went on to pass the full Senate on Thursday and has been delivered to the Governor to be signed into law.
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.
Scheduled: Rep. Rebecca Burkes and Sen. Clint Penzo filed HB1575 on Wednesday. This bill would create unreasonably stringent standards for people to access their unemployment insurance benefits. It is on the agenda of the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee for 10am on Tuesday, March 14.
Delivered to the Governor: Sen. Gary Stubblefield and Rep. Mary Bentley are the co-sponsors of SB199. This bill will set up stringent requirements for physicians who offer gender-affirming care to minors in Arkansas. The effect of the bill would make it nearly impossible for parents to obtain gender-affirming care for their children. It would also make it unlikely that physicians wishing to provide such care could obtain or retain medical malpractice insurance. The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and the full House on Wednesday. It has been delivered to the Governor to be signed into law. Read an article about this bill here. And another one here.
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 passed the Senate City, County and Local Affairs Committee on Tuesday and the full Senate on Wednesday. It is on the agenda of the House City, County and Local Affairs Committee as a Special Order of Business for Wednesday, March 15.
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.