Capitol Notebook: Abortion Bill Filed Thursday

by Michael Wilkey ( 9 views 

A so-called “web-cam abortion bill” was filed Thursday with supporters expecting a committee hearing on the bill sometime in the near future, its sponsor said.

State Rep. Julie Mayberry, R-Hensley, submitted House Bill 1076, which has 38 co-sponsors in the House and 17 co-sponsors in the Senate. It is described as an “act to regulate the use of certain drugs used to induce an abortion, to define certain terms; to provide for disciplinary proceedings for abortions performed in violation of this act; to provide a civil cause of action for violations of this act; to require physician reporting and for other purposes.”

Mayberry said a similar bill was filed during the 2013 session, but did not receive a committee hearing.

According to the text of the bill, it would require doctors and other personnel to be in the room when an abortion procedure is done.

“When mifepristone or another drug or chemical is used to induce an abortion, the initial administration of the drug or chemical shall occur in the same room and in the physical presence of the physician who prescribed, dispensed or otherwise provided the drug or chemical to the patient,” the bill reads.

The bill would also require a doctor or “a person acting on behalf of the physician who induces the abortion, shall make all reasonable efforts to ensure that the patient returns 12 to 18 days …. for a follow-up visit.”

The bill also allows the Arkansas State Medical Board to revoke the license of a doctor who violates the rules of professional conduct by performing an abortion in violation of the law; as well as allows the woman and other family members to seek civil damages if the law is broken.

Mayberry said similar bills have been passed in 17 states and only challenged in one state. Supporters added the word “initial” on the doctor part of the bill to help allay constitutional concerns, Mayberry said.

According to published reports, groups like Planned Parenthood have objected to bills like this, especially the telemedicine issue, saying it violates the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade by limiting a woman’s right to an abortion.

The group opposed a similar law in Iowa that passed that state’s legislative last year. A circuit judge there found the law constitutional last August, but was overturned by the Iowa Supreme Court last September.

Mayberry said the “telemedicine” type of abortion is not currently being done in Arkansas “to my knowledge.”

“However, it is much easier to try to stop something before it starts,” she said.

The bill was referred Thursday afternoon to the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee. A similar bill, Senate Bill 53, was also filed Thursday by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View. That bill was also referred Thursday to the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee.

Mayberry said the issue is important to her and the state’s Right to Life committee, which is hosting a march Sunday in Little Rock. Gov. Asa Hutchinson will headline the march.

“My husband, Andy, was also a state legislator and he was the lead sponsor on the 20-week law,” Mayberry said. “There are some who say it is a ‘War on Women.’ But I think it is ironic that two women who have sponsored the bills.”

Mayberry said she is hopeful that the bill can bridge differences in both camps.

“For me, protecting life is a top priority. For someone who does not see it like me, that it is the woman’s life, (with the bill) at least we can try to make the procedure safer,” Mayberry said.

Other bills referred to committee Tuesday were House Bill 1074 and House Bill 1075.

HB 1074, sponsored by Rep. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, would seek to prohibit a school board from “acquiring, holding, buying, renting or leasing real property located outside the boundaries of the school district.” The bill was sent to the House Education Committee.

HB 1075, sponsored by the Joint Budget Committee, is the appropriation bill for the Arkansas Development Finance Authority for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

ADFA administers funding using tax exempt bonds and other funding to help economic development, homeownership and affordable rental housing programs in the state.

The House Education Committee approved three bills by voice vote.

State Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, who sponsored House Bill 1011, said the bill came after he heard from a constituent about an issue.

The constituent, who scored 35 on the ACT test, is a member of the Latter Day Saints church. The church requires a year-long mission trip after graduation and that the student was willing to walk away from the scholarship, Bell said.

Bell told the committee that most scholarship programs done by the Department of Higher Education, other than the Governor’s Distinguished Scholars program, have provisions to accommodate similar issues.

Higher Education Director Shane Broadway told the committee that the department tries to work with students who face similar issues and that there was no opposition to the change.

The bill would give the Department of Higher Education the authority to approve a scholarship hold for up to two years.

The bill now heads to the House floor.

The committee also approved House Bill 1014, sponsored by House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia. The bill would exempt state institutions, political subdivisions and any other applicable entities with tort liability immunity from the requirement to obtain general liability insurance coverage when obtaining a child care facility license.

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs, also sponsored House Bill 1002 which was approved.

The bill congratulated the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts for being ranked number 10 in the country by the Daily Beast in its 2014 survey of America’s Top High Schools.

The following major House bills were also filed Thursday:

  • House Bill 1080 (State Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville) – to protect the integrity of ongoing academic research and studies; and to create an exemption to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act of 1967).
  • House Bill 1079 (State Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork) – concerning the use of an unmanned vehicle or aircraft that captures images, to create the criminal offenses; to provide for civil liability.
  • House Bill 1078 (State Rep. Gary Deffenbaugh, R-Van Buren) – to allow a member to change his or her beneficiary upon the occurrence of certain events; to allow the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System to be consistent and to declare an emergency.
  • House Bill 1077 (State Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville) – concerning the possession of a concealed handgun in a university, college or community college building.
  • House Resolution 1003 (State Rep. Scott Baltz, D-Pocahontas) – to honor veteran William J. Strauss for his military service during World War II.

In other news, Rep. Laurie Rushing, R-Hot Springs, was elected House Freshmen Caucus Chair for the 2015 session. Rep. Michael John Gray, D-Augusta, was elected Vice Chair of the Freshmen Caucus.

There are 40 new House members in this year’s General Assembly.

Both the House and Senate will not be in session Friday. Both chambers are also off Monday in observance of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gen. Robert E. Lee holidays.

The House and Senate will reconvene at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in Little Rock.