Democrats passed a lot of good laws during this session of the Arkansas Legislature. Their good work goes to show that there’s never a good excuse for not getting something done. When it comes down to it, Arkansas Democrats have the power to deliver on some important issues. We showed you just a few of our accomplishments last week (see here)…and we’ve got a few more highlights to share.
But first, take a moment to get familiar with a 2020 ballot item, referred out by the Arkansas Legislature, that would severely limit the people’s right to put a measure on the ballot (think minimum wage and medical marijuana).
HJR1008 would amend the Arkansas Constitution, and threatens to drastically scale back the voice of Arkansans through the ballot petition process. Democrats must take a vocal role in pushing back on all efforts to infringe on the ballot process. These restrictions are being proposed because of a fear of good votes from the people of Arkansas.
- This bill would move up the deadline from filing petition efforts from four months before an election all the way to January 15th of an election year.
- Instead of requiring signatures to be gathered from at least 15 counties, it would increase the minimum requirement to three-fifths of the state’s 75 counties.
- It eliminates the cure period for gathering additional signatures after the Secretary of State’s office verifies submitted signatures — effectively ELIMINATING that crucial second effort.
Arkansas history is defined by the struggles – and great accomplishments – of our Civil Rights heroes. Arkansas lawmakers honored their legacy, and pushed forward despite resistance.
- Rep. Charles Blake (Little Rock) continued to display real leadership. The House Minority Leader introduced legislation to remove the symbolic commemoration of the Confederacy in the Arkansas state flag. It would have re-designated the meaning of one of the four blue stars on the flag, to instead commemorate the role of Native Americans in the state. The bill gained national acclaim, but ultimately stalled in committee, However, it promises to have new life in the next legislative session. Rep. Blake’s proposal has since gained traction with the governor and several members of the other party.
- Rep. Monte Hodges (Blytheville) brought attention to a tragedy that has long gone overlooked in Arkansas. He passed a resolution in remembrance of the fatal fire in 1959 at the Arkansas Negro Boys Industrial School in Wrightsville, outside of Little Rock. The fire killed 21 boys who were locked in a dormitory, many of them were buried in a mass grave.
- Nearly every Arkansan knows about the heroism of the Little Rock Nine, but just across the river in North Little Rock, six young African-American students underwent a similar trial. Rep. Jamie Scott (North Little Rock) honored the North Little Rock Six with a resolution. This brave group of students attempted to integrate North Little Rock High School in September of 1957, just days after the Little Rock Nine began their historic struggle…read more about their story here.
From domestic violence, to disparities in drug sentencing, to re-entry programs Democrats made strides in tackling the problems with Arkansas’s criminal justice system, and standing up for people and families.
- Rep. Tippi McCullough (Little Rock) passed not one, not two, but three critical bills addressing domestic violence. HB1379 would strengthen penalties for attacks that cause disfigurement and strengthen other penalties based on age; HB1380 requires communication between a victim of domestic violence and an advocate to be privileged communication; and HB1403 adds an enhanced sentence when certain crimes are committed in the presence of a child.
- Rep. Monte Hodges (Blytheville) began work on several efforts, likely to appear again during interim committee meetings and studies. Hodges launched efforts to reduce certain sentence classifications related to drug possession, and began important conversations about “banning the box” for people who have previously committed felonies who are looking for work.
- Rep. Jay Richardson (Fort Smith) is getting the ball rolling on eliminating fees associated with court fines being paid in installments. How much money someone has shouldn’t determine the type of justice they receive. Rep. Richardson is leading on this issue, and has legislation (HB1749) pending in interim study during the next several months.
- Rep. Andrew Collins (Little Rock) successfully passed a bill that requires all new law enforcement hires to go through training that will teach them to recognize overdose and administer Narcan. This is a critical step in addressing the opioid crisis.
Democrats pushed hard on economic development – with an emphasis on making sure all of our 75 counties prosper, not just the same dozen or so that seem to always benefit.
- Several bills helped push the envelope on solar energy in Arkansas. Democrats joined together to pass SB145, which allows a person or a business to lease a solar-energy system, rather than having to own it. The new law also will increase the size limit of solar arrays, and adds protections for customers against future rate increases. Rep. Fred Love (Little Rock) led the charge on HB1728, which adds solar energy generation equipment to the public improvements procurement procedure for a municipality or associated water system.
- Agriculture dominates Arkansas’s economy, and is the lifeblood of most of our counties. Access to veterinary care for livestock is a top concern for many Arkansans, and the state of access is getting to a critical level. Thankfully, state Senator Bruce Maloch (Magnolia) successfully herded HB1124 into law. The new act will create vet tech specialist and vet technologist certifications, creating a position similar to an advanced practice nurse for veterinary services.
- Rep. Kenneth Ferguson (Pine Bluff) has started work on creating a multi-county economic development grant program. The funds would be directed toward rural economic development, through the Rural Services Division of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. The legislation is headed to interim study.
- Rep. Jay Richardson (Fort Smith) provided an important jolt to commercial barge traffic along Arkansas’s waterways. SB453 was signed into law; it directs a portion of taxes and penalties collected from water transportation companies to the Arkansas Waterways Commission to develop, improve, and expand water transportation resources on Arkansas’ portion of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System.
Democrats fought hard for public schools during this session, beat back back some bad bills, and made some real strides (see here). A few more examples…
- Freshman lawmaker Don Glover, representing the southeast Arkansas Delta towns of Lake Village, McGehee, Dumas, and Dermott stepped up to the plate in his first term. Glover, along with state Senator Joyce Elliott (Little Rock), helped pass HB1790 into law. The legislation ensures that the state continues to provide access to educational opportunities to expelled students.
- Sen. Elliott, along with state Rep. Jamie Scott (North Little Rock), passed a pair of bills to address dyslexia. SB664 requires dyslexia screening and reading assessment within 30 days of commitment to the Department of Corrections, while SB677 requires the same of the Division of Youth Services educational system.
We need your support to make sure Arkansas Democrats can keep up the good work – and can get some reinforcements in the Legislature!
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