Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued his third and fourth vetoes of this year’s legislative session Thursday, including one regarding “unlawful mass picketing” in public places.
Hutchinson vetoed Senate Bill 550 by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, which outlaws demonstrating near a business, school or private facility if it obstructs access to a place of employment, obstructs the free use of public roads and other means of travel, obstructs access to a private residence, or includes a threat of violence or intimidation near a private residence.
A violation would be a misdemeanor, with fines of up to $1,000 per day for those who violate a court order to stop picketing. The charge “does not apply to a person who is validly exercising his or her rights as guaranteed by the United States Constitution or the Arkansas Constitution.”
The bill passed the Senate with only one vote to spare, 18-8, on March 31, after previously passing the House 58-21.
Hutchinson wrote in a letter to Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, dated April 6 that the bill is overbroad and vague and “will have a chilling effect on free speech and the right to assemble.” He wrote that the definition of “mass picketing” would allow law enforcement “to apply criminal statutes to public assembly.”
Vetoes can be overridden with a simple majority vote. The process would begin in the Senate, where the bill originated, when the Legislature returns from its recess May 1. The Legislature is expected to adjourn that day sine die, or indefinitely. Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, said it would be up to Garner whether to attempt an override.
“With having only received the minimum votes for passage, I’m guessing that override will be a pretty big lift,” he said.
Reached Friday while riding in the back of a pickup truck in a parade at Hampton at the Hogskin Holidays Festival, Garner said he was weighing his options on the override. Garner said he introduced the bill because he had seen veterans in Washington, D.C., denied access to President Trump’s inauguration by protestors and saw Arkansas schoolchildren attacked while on a bus while traveling to a hotel.
“I think it’s going to hurt average Arkansans who want to go to work every single day and have people block the street, and I think it’s wrong to have people who can threaten and harass outside people’s private residences,” he said.
The bill is the fourth this session vetoed by Hutchinson. He also Thursday vetoed Senate Bill 446 by Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, which appropriated $850,000 for panic button alert system expenses for the Public School Fund Account. The bill had passed the Senate 34-0 and the House 77-6.
Teague said he would not attempt to override the governor’s veto, saying, “No heartburn.”
Hutchinson on April 4 vetoed Senate Bill 496 by Sen. Scott Flippo, R-Bull Shoals, which prohibits the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Enforcement Division from enforcing laws regarding gambling devices. That bill had passed the Senate 24-5 and the House 53-22.
Flippo did not respond to a request for comment on Friday afternoon. He was quoted in the Baxter Bulletin in a story published Thursday saying he had passed the bill after ABC agents had removed video gaming machines from several area fraternal organizations. The story said he was attempting to set a up a meeting with some of those organizations and Boyce Hamlet, director of ABC’s Enforcement Division.
The article quoted the governor’s letter accompanying the veto, which said the bill would prohibit an executive agency from enforcing the law.
On March 20, Hutchinson vetoed House Bill 1581 by Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, which required each state agency to conduct a survey of employee engagement every two years. The House failed to override the veto 42-34 on March 21.