The Arkansas General Assembly was plenty busy on Monday (March 29) after a late-week hiatus for Spring Break.
State lawmakers returned to the capitol early Monday morning to first consider Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s request for a 60-day extension of the public health emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. An effort to deny the extension failed clearing the way for it to continue until the end of May.
In session business, the Arkansas State Senate took up a controversial measure to restrict medical care and procedures for transgender teens.
HB 1570, led by Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, was debated for close to an hour despite the measure having 19 Senate co-sponsors. The bill’s passage was assured as only 18 votes are needed for approval.
The bill restricts surgeries and medical procedures and prescriptions for transgender teens.
After lengthy debate, the bill passed 28-7. All Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, voted for the measure. Six Democrats and Independent Sen. Jim Hendren of Gravette opposed the bill. The measure now goes to the governor’s desk for signature or veto.
Also in Senate floor action, HB 1246 was passed on a non-controversial 33-2 vote. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dave Wallace, R-Leachville, changes the scope of practice for pharmacists. The legislation was touted as providing more resources for rural health care. Under the measure, pharmacists would be allowed to issue prescriptions for items such as the flu or strep throat; over the counter devices and equipment; and less expensive medications. It now heads to Gov. Asa Hutchinson for consideration.
The House of Representatives had a fuller calendar.
One of the more robust debates occurred on SB 18, which changes the way courts would address child custody and visitation issues. The bill, led by Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, allows joint custody as the starting point for child custody in divorce cases barring extreme circumstances.
SB 18 passed on a 71-16 vote count. With its passage, it heads to the governor’s desk.
HB 1671 would allow student-athletes at institutions of higher education to be compensated for their name, image or likeness. It passed 97-1. That bill will go to the State Senate for consideration.
HB 1707 would have eliminated UAMS enrollment positions by Congressional District residency. It failed 47-45 as some legislators worried it would dilute the prospects for doctors in rural Arkansas.
HB 1728 would have allowed for campaign funds or carryover funds to be used for childcare for candidates with kids during campaign events. There was quite a bit of opposition to the measure; after a lengthy debate it failed 32-59.
Columnist John Brummett with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette joined Talk Business & Politics Daily for a conversation on the state of politics. Watch his interview and the rest of the daily show in the video below.