Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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Legislative Update

by Larry Page, Executive Director

We are now about to complete week seven of the current legislative session. The following is a compilation of some of the key bills and proposals with which we are concerned, working on at some level or tracking. There are other measures, but the ones we list in these updates are the major ones.

You will notice that some bills covered in previous updates are not included in this one. Those bills were either passed and signed into law, defeated or withdrawn by the sponsor(s). We omitted those to prevent the updates from being too long.

• Senate Joint Resolution 13 (SJR 13) — This measure is a proposed state constitutional amendment. The legislature can refer up to three amendments to the voters of Arkansas in general elections. This amendment, if approved by both chambers of the legislature and wins passage in a general election, will legalize the recreational use of marijuana and will also allow Arkansas residents to grow their own marijuana. The measure is still pending in the Senate’s State Agencies Committee. This is a bad bill we need to defeat. 

• House Joint Resolution 1008 (HJR1008) — This may be the worst proposal filed thus far in this legislative session. We must defeat this measure and do so vigorously. In addition to many other things, this proposed amendment, if submitted to the voters and approved, would repeal the state’s Unborn Child Amendment and create the fundamental right to abortion. Even a late-stage abortion could be performed if a doctor states it is necessary to protect the physical or mental health of the woman. Given that incredible authority, an unscrupulous doctor could easily greenlight an abortion that should be prohibited. This proposed amendment is waiting to be heard in the House’s State Agencies Committee. We will work tirelessly to defeat this measure if it gains any traction. At this point, we don’t think it will get much support, but we will monitor it closely and alert you should we need to bring pressure to bear on the legislators.

• Senate Bill 43 (SB43) — This bill will further define what constitutes “adult-oriented performances” and will prohibit such performances from being conducted on public property or in the presence of children and further forbids public funding of those events. This bill has been approved by both chambers of the legislature and, when signed by the governor, will become law. This victory represents a concrete move to protect our state’s children from being exposed to indecent and sexually provocative displays.

• Senate Bill 81 (SB81) — This bill will amend the law concerning obscenity provided to a minor, including from a library. This bill was amended recently and is pending in the House’s Judiciary Committee. It looks as if it is headed for approval and will soon be law; a proper outcome and further efforts to protect the sensibilities of children.

• Senate Bill 66 (SB66) — If it becomes law, this bill will require that internet and other distributors of obscenity utilize reasonable age-verification methods to prevent minors from acquiring the obscenity. Failure to do so can result in lawsuits against those providing obscenity to minors without the required safeguards. Judgments for successful litigation can include awards, punitive damages, attorney’s fees and court costs. The bill passed the Senate, but ran into a speed bump in the House’s Rules Committee where it failed to win approval. The sponsors of the bill have stated they will make another attempt to get a do-pass recommendation from the committee. It would be very helpful if you would contact your state representative, asking them to support SB66, a good and much-needed law to provide protection for our children.

• House Bill 1156 (HB1156) — If approved, HB1156 will protect students at public schools and public charter schools from having to share sex-specific spaces such as locker rooms, shower rooms, restrooms and changing areas where stages of undress are common with a member of the opposite biological sex. Accommodations, such as single-use facilities may be provided for those declaring a different gender identity than the sexual identity given at birth. The bill has been approved by the House and by the Senate’s Education Committee. If approved by the full Senate, it will go to the governor and, upon her signature, this will be a good law that will be essential if we are to protect female students from having to undress and shower with biological males.

• House Bill 1301 (HB1301) — This bill will legalize abortion if a doctor says the unborn child has a “fetal abnormality incompatible with life,” whatever that means. The bill has no definition of fetal abnormality, so it could mean just about whatever a pro-abortion doctor wanted it to mean. The danger in establishing an arbitrary jumping-off point where abortions could legally be performed is obvious. Where might it stop? This bill is awaiting action in the House’s Public Health Committee. We strongly oppose this law and will work hard for its defeat.

• House Bill 1151 (HB1151) — HB1151 will increase the penalties for the crime of sexually grooming a child. This bill is waiting to be heard in the House’s Judiciary Committee.

• Senate Bill 270 (SB270) — This bill will amend the laws regarding the criminal offenses of sexual indecency with children. The bill was assigned recently to the Senate’s Judiciary Committee. It is a lengthy bill, and we will provide more of a description of the bill and what it may accomplish in our next update.

If you have any questions or concerns about any of these issues, please contact us, and we will be glad to explain these matters further. Thanks for your participation in good government. It works best when we get involved, have our voices heard and our preferences are known.