Just over a month before the 2017 legislative session begins, more than 40 bills have been pre-filed as Arkansas lawmakers prepare for a budget-tight session that includes a proposed $50 million tax cut by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Since pre-filing began on Nov. 15, bills have been proposed on a wide-range of issues from campaign finance reform, ethics and accountability measures to hot button political and social proposals that will endear lawmakers to their constituents.
This week, a host of bills were also filed that will likely make headlines once the 91st General Assembly begins on Jan. 9, 2017. For example, Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, has filed a bevy of bills this week that will likely stir strong debate if lawmakers choose to move his legislation through committee.
On Monday, Stubblefield filed Senate Bill (SB) 12, which would exempt emergency and security records at education institutions from the state Freedom of Information Act. Stubblefield said he introduced similar legislation at the end of the 2015 legislative session, but it did not make it through committee and come up for a House vote. Stubblefield said he filed SB 12 because he knows teachers and school administrators in his Senate district with valid permits to carry a firearm for personal protection while on school property.
“This bill keeps their names from disclosure and protects those teachers that carry weapons,” he said.
Stubblefield’s proposal and other measures concerning the “open carry,” or the right to legally carry firearms at schools, colleges, churches and in public, have been hotly debated at the Arkansas capitol since Act 746 signed into law in 2013. That act modified existing law to read: “(A) person commits the offense of carrying a weapon if he or she possesses a handgun, knife, or club on or about his or her person, in a vehicle occupied by him or her, or otherwise readily available for use with a purpose to attempt to unlawfully employ the handgun, knife, or club as a weapon against a person.”
Key language in the new law was “attempt to unlawfully employ” the weapon. Shortly after the law was signed, then Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said the new law did not allow for an individual to do more than possess a handgun within that person’s personal transportation when on a journey outside of the person’s residential county.
Since then, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and Attorney General Rutledge, both Republicans and 2nd Amendment advocates, have said they believe the 2013 law makes it legal to “open carry” firearms in Arkansas as long as there is not intent to unlawfully employ it against another person.
GUNS ON CAMPUS, SANCTUARY CITIES
Besides SB 12, other Republican lawmakers have indicated that a proposal to allow college faculty and employees to legally carry firearms on campus that failed to pass in recent legislative sessions will come up again when legislators assemble in Little Rock next month.
Stubblefield also filed SB 14, which would prohibit Arkansas municipalities from enacting any policies granting certain rights to illegal immigrants or setting up so-called “sanctuary cities,” a loosely defined term for communities that protect undocumented immigrants who violate federal laws. When asked if there is such a problem in Arkansas, Stubblefield replied “no.”
“As far as I know, there are not any sanctuary cities in the state of Arkansas,” he said. “It is a preemptive bill. If the federal government was doing its job and enforcing (immigration) laws, we wouldn’t need to do this.”
Stubblefield also said he has pre-filed a “hate crime” bill, which had not been posted on the Arkansas State Legislature website at the close of business Friday. Stubblefield said his bill will make it a hate crime to attack, stalk or make terroristic threats against police officers, paramedics and other law enforcement officials and members of their families.
“Any event that is declared to be a misdemeanor against a (policeman) will get extra enhance on top of that law,” Stubblefield said. “A lot of states are doing this, especially those states that have had attacks against the police. This deters people from doing it and will make them think before committing a crime against the people who go to work every day to protect us.”
MEDICAL MARIJUANA LEGISLATION
Beside Stubblefield’s bills, the other notable proposal filed this week would push back the implementation date for the recently passed Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment.
After Arkansas voters passed the marijuana proposal by a vote of 53-47% on Nov. 8, Gov. Hutchinson, House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, and Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, have until Dec. 9 to appoint a five-member Medical Marijuana Commission that must create a process for licensing dispensaries and cultivation facilities.
Also, the commission has 120 days to establish license application and license renewal fees for dispensaries and cultivation facilities. It must begin accepting applications by June 1, 2017. Meanwhile, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division has 120 days to be ready to inspect dispensaries, while the Department of Health has 120 days to set up a system to provide cards to eligible patients and to set up labeling and testing standards.
HB 1026 by Rep. Douglas House, R-North Little Rock, would extend those 120 day deadlines to no longer than 180 days, or at the beginning of the next fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2017. House could not be reached for comment for this story by Talk Business & Politics.
Since Oct. 11, the Arkansas Legislative Council and the Joint Budget Committee have held hearings on the budget requests from state agencies and institutions for the 2017-2019 biennium. The 91st general session will officially begin at noon on Jan. 9, 2017.