The Arkansas Senate on Monday (March 4) unanimously adopted a bill that would change a 102-year old law to clarify serious violations on the use of the farming herbicide dicamba, as well as strongly backing another measure to let local school boards test teachers and other district employees for drugs.
While both measures were easily approved by the Senate, debate on the two House bills was decidedly different during the two-hour long chamber session as the 92nd General Assembly surpassed the 50-day mark.
As quickly as House Bill 1512 was introduced by Senate co-sponsor Sen. Dave Wallace, R-Leachville, the 35-member chamber speedily approved the measure and kicked it back to the House before it is enacted into law. The bill amends the Arkansas Plant Act of 1917 by defining “egregious violations” of dicamba use only if it is applied intentionally in defiance of federal label requirements or state law.
After the Senate vote, HB 1512 was re-referred to the House Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development committee to concur a Senate amendment that immediately enacts the bill into law once it is signed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. It was also unanimously approved Feb. 25 on the House floor in a vote of 89-0.
“It is found and determined by the General Assembly of the State of Arkansas that delay in implementation of this act would hinder the State Plant Board from enforcing egregious violations during the 2019 growing season, which could have a detrimental impact on the state’s agricultural economy,” states the HB 1512 emergency clause.
Two weeks ago, the Arkansas State Plant Board (ASPB), in a 9-6 vote, approved the restrictive use of dicamba during the 2019 growing season. That rule change was then submitted to the Joint Budget Committee’s Administrative Rules and Regulations Review Subcommittee, which approved the Plant Board’s use of the herbicide temporarily on the same day as Rep. David Hillman, R-Almyra, brought HB 1512 up for a House floor vote.
The Plant Board’s proposed changes are applicable to all current (Engenia, Fexapan, and Xtendimax) and future dicamba products registered for in-crop use in Arkansas. The regulatory changes include restrictions on in-crop applications of dicamba from May 26 to Oct. 31, in which a half-mile buffer zone would be required around all non-dicamba crops when dicamba is applied.
A one-mile buffer zone must be established for university and USDA research stations, certified organic crops and commercially grown specialty crops between April 16 and May 25. The new rules prohibit the mixing of dicamba with glyphosate and applicators must provide proof of training to pesticide dealers prior to purchasing dicamba in-crop products.
The state Plant Board, housed within the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, had made the decision to ban dicamba after it received about 1,000 damage complaints in May 2017, primarily in northeast Arkansas, potentially caused from dicamba drift. The decision was highly controversial, but the board decided the risks were too significant.
Dicamba use has been a controversial topic in Arkansas for several years. A weed control herbicide, it was banned during the 2018 growing season after many problems during the 2017 season because it has been suspected of causing damage to other crops. The state board, which investigates and reviews agriculture-related complaints, had enacted higher fines on improper dicamba applications meant to serve as a significant deterrent to potential violators.
Later during Monday’s agenda in the Senate, there was a more spirited 30-minute debate on House Bill 1396, which would allow school district boards to implement a drug screening requirement for a new applicant or current employee at Arkansas public schools.
After introducing HB 1396 by simply reading the title, Sen Jane English, R-North Little Rock, kicked off more than 15 minutes of feisty back-and-forth where supporters and opponents made vocal arguments concerning drug-testing of Arkansas teachers and other school employees. Debate, for a moment, came to a halt when Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, motioned for immediate consideration of HB 1396.
After that motion failed, debate continued for another 10 minutes before English came to the podium and closed for the bill. After the roll call, HB 1396 was easily approved by a 26-6 vote. Last week, the bill was unanimously adopted by the House on a vote of 89-0. Eleven House members did not vote on the measure sponsored by Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville.
In other Senate business, the Senate approved a resolution to recess for the upcoming spring break on Wednesday, March 20 and reconvene on Monday, March 25. The Arkansas legislature will close out its 8th week of business on Friday.