Arkansas House Committee OKs controversial ‘intrastate commerce’ bill

by The City Wire staff ( 35 views 

The House City, County and Local Affairs committee approved a bill Wednesday that supporters say would improve intrastate commerce, with opponents saying it creates discrimination and takes away local control.

The committee approved Senate Bill 202 during a hearing Wednesday at the capitol, and it will head to the full House for a final vote as the state Senate has already approved the measure.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, said the bill would make sure “businesses, organizations and employers doing business in the state are subject to uniform nondiscrimination laws and obligations.” The measure bars local ordinances that would create “a protected classification or prohibit discrimination on a basis not contained in state law.”

However, opponents of the bill argue it would create an undue burden on cities and counties, take away local control, as well as open up possible concerns regarding discrimination.

They point to a recent controversial issue in Fayetteville, where the city council approved an ordinance designed to make it illegal to discriminate against an individual based on their sexual orientation. That ordinance was overturned by a vote of the people in a December special election.

In other action, the Senate voted 34-0 to approve a bill that would change the jurisdiction for the Arkansas lottery. Senate Bill 7, sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, would abolish the Arkansas Lottery Commission. From there, the bill would create the office of the Arkansas Lottery within the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.

A previous plan would have moved the lottery commission’s jurisdiction under the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, but Gov. Asa Hutchinson expressed concerns over the issue. The bill now heads to the House.

The Senate also approved a resolution setting an April 10 recess date for the legislative session. The resolution, House Concurrent Resolution 1004, would not only set the recess date but a May 8 adjournment date for this year’s session.

A pair of healthcare related bills were also filed on Wednesday.

Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, filed Senate Bill 343, which would prohibit the establishment through state law of a state-based health insurance exchange in Arkansas. The one-page bill was referred to the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee for their review.

Rep. Donnie Copeland, R-Little Rock, also filed House Bill 1363 Wednesday. The one-page bill would notify enrollees of the so-called Private Option at the “date of renewal or reassessment for enrollment” that the program will be ending Dec. 31, 2016. The bill, which was sent to the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee, would also notify people at the date of enrollment of the Dec. 31, 2016 deadline.