Senate votes for medical marijuana tax

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 511 views 

The Arkansas Senate voted Wednesday for a bill imposing a special privilege tax on medical marijuana.

House Bill 1580 by Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, imposes a 4% special privilege tax for gross sales of usable marijuana at cultivation facilities, dispensaries, and other marijuana businesses. The tax, which will be levied at each stage, will fund the administration of medical marijuana regulations.

The bill passed the Senate, 31-1, after failing 23-4 the day before. It required 24 votes because it amends the Arkansas Marijuana Medical Amendment passed by voters in November.

It now returns to the House to concur with a Senate amendment sunsetting the bill on July 1, 2019.

The Senate also passed House Bill 1778 by Rep. David Hillman, R-Almyra, which creates a research program to study the agricultural and economic potential of industrial hemp production. The State Plant Board would adopt rules to administer the program and could work with the University of Arkansas’ Division of Agriculture and Cooperative Extension Service. The bill passed 34-0 and has already passed the House.

Senators also voted to move school board elections from their current September dates to instead be held in conjunction with November elections or alongside preferential primaries, or the equivalent dates during non-election years.

Beginning in 2018, school districts would choose when to hold the elections under House Bill 1621 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle. The bill passed 23-7 and has already passed the House.

The Senate sponsor, Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, said the bill was needed to improve low voter turnout. Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, and Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, expressed concerns about county clerks’ ability to overlay school and political elections, but English said county clerks should be able to accomplish that task.

The Senate also voted 20-2 to require state agencies and public schools to display a durable poster or framed copy printed with “In God We Trust” along with the American and Arkansas flags if the copies are paid for with donated funds. The copies would be displayed in each public elementary and secondary school library and classroom and in all public buildings maintained by state funds. House Bill 1980 by Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, passed 20-2.

The Senate also passed a bill requiring commercial drivers to complete a human trafficking course offered by the Arkansas State Police or a third party in order to receive a commercial license. House Bill 1923 by Rep. Charlotte Douglas, R-Alma, passed 22-3.

Senators also voted for House Bill 2132 by Rep. Laurie Rushing, R-Hot Springs, which will create a task force that will review, evaluate and approve proposed amendments to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of 1967. The measure was approved 34-0 as part of a batch of bills, meaning senators voted for all of them at once without debate.

On the other side of the Capitol, the House of Representatives passed House Bill 2157 by Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, which exempts from the Freedom of Information Act personal contact information contained in Arkansas Transportation Department files and working papers obtained through the right-of-way acquisition process. Exempted are phone numbers, email addresses and home mailing addresses. The bill passed 58-8 with 8 voting present and moves to the Senate.

The House also voted to allow Arkansans to purchase lottery tickets using debit cards. Senate Bill 617 by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, passed 60-23 with 2 voting present. It has already passed the Senate.

Rushing, who presented the bill, told legislators that the bill allows but does not require retailers to accept debit cards, but it does not allow use of credit cards or government-issued electronic benefit transfer cards. Rep. Chris Richey, D-West Helena, said a consultant hired last year had recommended that the bill be passed to increase lottery receipts because many, like him, do not carry credit cards.

Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, spoke against the bill, saying it was “a step in the wrong direction” and could eventually lead to retailers accepting credit cards.