Capitol Notebook: Prison Reform, Primaries On Agenda Tuesday

by Michael Wilkey (mwilkey@talkbusiness.net) 5 views 

The sentencing of minors in capital murder cases was on the agenda Tuesday as word about a prison reform bill emerged in the legislature.

The House Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to table House Bill 1197, sponsored by Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville.

During the hour-long hearing, Leding and several witnesses spoke for and against the bill. The bill would amend the state’s law involving the sentencing of juveniles in capital murder cases.

Under the bill, the sentence of life without parole for juveniles convicted would be done away with.

The person would receive “life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after serving a minimum of 28 years imprisonment” if the person caused the murder to happen.

A person who “did not cause and did not have a purpose to cause the death of a person” would face life in prison with the possibility of parole after serving a minimum of 20 years in prison, the bill read.

Leding mentioned that several states have done away with life without parole sentences for juveniles and that religious leaders including the Pope have spoken against the practice.

Pulaski County prosecutor Larry Jegley spoke against the bill, citing the impact that a granting of parole would have on victims’ families and the justice system.

Larger sentencing and criminal justice reform should be revealed on Wednesday.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is expected to hold a press conference at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at the capitol to discuss prison reform in the state.

An omnibus bill is expected to be introduced Wednesday on the complex issue that seeks to address prison overcrowding, probation and parole, and long-term efforts to lower recidivism rates.

Talk Business & Politics will report details on the proposals at the end of the press conference tomorrow.

PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARIES
A bill introduced Tuesday may change the date that Arkansans select the 2016 party nominees for President of the United States.

Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, filed Senate Bill 389.

The bill would set a March 1, 2016 primary date for the Republican and Democratic party primaries in the state.

The primary would be part of a “SEC Primary” with states like Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee also voting that day.

Stubblefield said the change – from a usual May primary date to early March – would help bring the candidates in a possibly hotly contested campaign to the state.

COMMITTEE ACTION
The House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee approved two bills Tuesday.

The committee voted 11-5 to approve House Bill 1355, sponsored by Rep. Jack Ladyman, R-Jonesboro. The bill would allow water suppliers around the state to opt out of putting fluoride in water, content partner KUAR reported.

Ladyman, who serves on the committee, said the issue was a matter of local control. Officials with the Arkansas Department of Health and Arkansas Children’s Hospital opposed the bill, citing healthcare costs.

The bill now heads to the House.

The committee also approved a bill that would require doctors to be present when so-called “webcam abortions” are done.

The bill, Senate Bill 53, was sponsored by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View. The Senate voted 29-4 last week to approve the bill, which now heads to the House. A similar bill, House Bill 1076, sponsored by Rep. Julie Mayberry, R-Hensley, passed the Senate Tuesday by a 28-5 margin.

The bill now heads back to the House as amended.

Supporters of both bills have stressed the safety of the mother as key for a reason to approve the bills, while opponents have said the bills would violate the Roe v. Wade ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court.

FLOOR ACTION
The House voted 84-2, with one present, to approve a bill that would help individuals with intellectual disabilities to receive job training.

Rep. Mary Broadaway, D-Paragould, who sponsored House Bill 1255, said she began working on the issue when she and her husband began looking for ways to help their now-22 year old son with autism. The bill now heads to the Senate.

The House also voted 49-25, with four present – two votes short of a majority – against a bill to modify the requirements of a school district by detaching territory from an existing school district.

Supporters of the bill said it would help school districts determine boundaries while opponents said the bill had racial and economic implications.

Under the bill, a new school district could not be created in an area with fewer than 2,500 students.

“An existing school district shall not be reduced by means of detachment to an area with fewer than 2,500 students in average daily membership,” the bill read. “A new school district to be created by detachment must only be made up of students from one existing school district.”

The bill would have applied to schools between 5,000 and 20,000 students or schools with a 450 square mile radius.

Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, told the House that the bill was not a “white flight” bill and that opponents should not “look at any conspiracy theories” regarding the bill.

Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, said the bill “made no economic sense” and that supporters were asking for a lawsuit in regards to the bill.

The Senate also voted 34-0 Tuesday to approve House Bill 1163, sponsored by Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena. Bell said he filed the bill to protect public employees who file Arkansas Freedom of Information Act requests from retribution from employers.

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for signature.

The House also voted Tuesday to approve a resolution, honoring two El Dorado brothers for their military service.

House Memorial Resolution 1001, sponsored by Reps. Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado and John Baine, D-El Dorado, honored former Navy Seal Jeremy Jason Wise and Sergeant First Class Benjamin Brian Wise.

Jeremy Wise was killed in Dec. 2009 in a terrorist attack on a CIA outpost in Afghanistan, while Benjamin Wise died in Jan. 2012 from injuries in an attack in Afghanistan, the resolution noted.

Several members of the Wise family were in the gallery as the unanimous vote was taken.

WEDNESDAY SCHEDULE
The following are a list of committee meetings set for Wednesday in the Arkansas General Assembly:

Joint Committees
7:30 a.m. – Joint Budget Committee-Personnel, Room B, MAC.

House Committees
10 a.m. – Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs, Room 130.
10 a.m. – Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development, Room 138.
10 a.m. – City, County and Local Affairs, Room B, MAC.
12 p.m. – Rules, Room B, MAC.

15 minutes after adjournment – State Agencies and Governmental Affairs, Room 151.

Senate Committees
10 a.m. – Education, Room 207.
10 a.m. – Public Health, Welfare and Labor, Room 272.
10 a.m. – Revenue and Taxation, OSC.
Upon adjournment – Judiciary, Room 171.

10 minutes upon adjournment – Transportation, Technology and Legislative Affairs, Room 309.

The House and Senate will convene at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

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