Capitol Notebook: Regional Jail Bill Passes Senate

by Michael Wilkey ( 42 views 

A plan supporting a regional jail approach to the state’s corrections debate will help the state and its residents in many ways, the sponsor of the bill said Wednesday.

The Senate voted 33-0 to approve Senate Bill 618, sponsored by Sen. David Sanders, R-Little Rock.

Sanders’ bill would permit the Arkansas Department of Corrections to contract or reach an agreement with a regional correctional facility to house inmates. The bill would also amend current law to use the regional jail approach, which is used in other nearby states like Mississippi.

“Subject to the approval of the Governor, the Department of Correction may cooperate with and contract with the federal government, governmental agencies of Arkansas and other states, political subdivisions of Arkansas, political subdivisions of other states, counties, regional correctional facilities and private contractors to provide and improve correctional operations and to keep custody of inmates transferred from the Department of Correction,” the bill reads.

Sanders said the approach will potentially create winners for the state as well as citizens. For the state, Sanders said it will give the state of Arkansas an opportunity to work with counties to house minimum security prisoners at a lower cost. Sanders said he believes taxpayers would benefit by finding a better way to house inmates, freeing up the cost of deputies transporting prisoners around the state.

Also, Sanders said the current system of using geography, manpower and an allocation of resources is an older model, while the regional system has been successful in other state. While the idea of regional jails is new in Arkansas, Sanders said he has gotten a lot of positive feedback on the idea.

“I have been generally pleased with the response (I have gotten) on the bill,” Sanders said.

One of the counties interested in the idea is Lawrence County.

County Judge Dale Freeman recently told content partner KAIT that the county is looking at the issue. A regional jail in Lawrence County would hold up to 250 county and state prisoners, while officials are considering using county owned property to build the jail.

Sanders’ bill now heads to the House.

The Senate Education Committee approved an amended version of a bill Wednesday involving a statewide education test.

The bill, House Bill 1241, failed in committee Wednesday morning but was later amended. Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, state education officials would have stopped participating in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers on June 30, 2015.

However, the amended bill would end the state’s participation by June 30, 2016.

The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committee voted Wednesday against a bill that would have set school board elections on the same day as general elections.

The bill, House Bill 1743, was sponsored by Rep. James Sorvillo, R-Little Rock. Sorvillo told the committee that his bill would seek to address low voter turnout for school board elections. Meanwhile, opponents said the change would drive up election costs and add confusion for voters.

The committee approved a bill that would allow a federal candidate to seek two federal offices at the same time. The bill, Senate Bill 803, was sponsored by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs.

The bill would amend state law by allow a person to “be a candidate for President or Vice President of the United States and United States Senate and United States House of Representatives at the same time.”

The bill now heads to the House.

The House Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs committee approved three bills Wednesday.

House Bill 1284, sponsored by Rep. David Whitaker, D-Fayetteville, would seek to protect the identity and contact information of children from the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

Under the bill, the “date of birth, home address, email address, phone number and other contact information from county or municipal parks and recreation department records of a person who was under 18 years of age at the time of the request” would be exempt under the law.

House Bill 1762, sponsored by Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro, would create the crime of female genital mutilation in the state. A person convicted of the crime would face a Class C felony, under the bill.

House Bill 1947, sponsored by Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway, would eliminate daylight savings time in the state. If approved by legislators and signed into law, the state would be under standard time all year long.

All three bills head to the House floor.

The House voted 90-1 to approve House Bill 1793 to allow lawmakers to seek reimbursements for legislative expenses.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Gossage, R-Ozark, would allow the following legislators to seek an additional $3,600 a year for expenses:

· The chairs of standing, select and joint committees in both houses.
· The co-chairs and subcommittee chairs of the Arkansas Legislative Council.
· The co-chairs and subcommittee chairs of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee.
· Speaker of the House.
· Speaker Pro Tempore of the House.
· Speaker-designate of the House.
· President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
· President Pro Tempore-designate of the Senate.
· The House and Senate chairs of the Review/PEER subcommittee of the Joint Budget Committee, Personnel subcommittee of Joint Budget, Claims subcommittee of Joint Budget, Special Language subcommittee of Joint Budget and the co-chairs of any committee which does not function during the session.

Also, the vice chairs of each standing, select and joint committees in either house or the vice chairs of the Arkansas Legislative Council would be eligible to receive $2,400 per year for legislative expenses.

However, there would be a $3,600 cap on the expenses that are given, according to the bill. The measure would also eliminate the $14,000 in reimbursements that a lawmaker can currently get for expenses, content partner KUAR reported.

Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, who voted against the bill, said it “sends the wrong message” considering an independent commission has reviewed salaries of legislators. However, House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, said the bill was about office expenses only and that the bill provides transparency on the expenses issue.

The bill now heads to the Senate.

The House also voted 33-44 against reconsidering a bill involving the mandatory loss of retirement benefits for judges and justices. House Bill 1202, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, would extend the retirement age from the current 70 to 72 years old.

According to state law, any judge or justice who reaches the age of 70 can continue working but can lose their retirement benefits. However, if the judge or justice turns 70 while in office, they can continue their term without losing any benefits.

The bill also failed Tuesday by a 49-21 margin – two votes short of passage.

The House voted 80-6 Wednesday to approve a bill to protect the property rights of a person to the use of their name, voice, signature and likeness. The bill, Senate Bill 79, was approved Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee. Supporters have said the bill would help protect people in case their likeness is used in a wrong manner. However, opponents said it would cause complex problems for media and news organizations.

The following committee meetings are scheduled for Thursday in the Arkansas General Assembly:

Joint Committees
7:30 a.m. – Joint Budget Committee-Special Language, Room B, MAC.
9:00 a.m. – Joint Budget Committee, Room A, MAC.

House Committees
9:00 a.m. – Public Health, Welfare and Labor, Room 130.
9:00 a.m. – Public Transportation, Room B, MAC.
10:00 a.m. – Education, Room 138.
10:00 a.m. – Judiciary, Room 149.
10:00 a.m. – Revenue & Taxation, Room 151.

Senate Committees
10:00 a.m. – Agriculture, Forestry & Economic Development, Room 309.
10:00 a.m. – City, County & Local Affairs, Room 272.
10:00 a.m. – State Agencies & Governmental Affairs, OSC.

The Senate convenes at 11 a.m., while the House convenes at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.