Controversial bills move forward in legislature

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 3,319 views 

State senators moved two controversial bills forward in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday (Feb. 20).

SB 199, by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, creates a “private right of action” allowing people to sue individual healthcare providers after receiving transgender medical treatment if they can prove “injury.” The bill was amended to shorten the period of time for a civil action to be filed from 30 years to 15 years. Senate Judiciary members, who have previously approved the bill, moved it forward again to the full Senate.

The majority of the committee’s time was spent debating SB 81, by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro. His bill would create a system for local oversight of materials available at public and school libraries. On Monday, Sullivan amended his bill to remove language that he said would clarify if someone intentionally violated a decision made by a review board.

Sen. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, questioned Sullivan as to why he did not extend oversight and interpretation to the courts instead of the process outlined in the bill.

“I don’t want to micromanage libraries,” Sullivan said, leading to Sen. Stubblefield, who chaired the committee, threatening to remove people laughing from the room.

“Many people want a challenge to the process,” Sullivan added. “My goal is to make sure everyone follows the same process.”

After one-minute testimony from a dozen witnesses who were lined up to speak for and against the measure, the bill was passed as amended. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

In Senate business, SB 71, also by Sen. Sullivan, was re-referred to the State Agencies committee for an amendment. Sullivan said he wants to put language in the bill to require a two-year implementation period for parts of the bill that might require institutions of higher education or other state agencies to adjust to the new law, if it passes.

Sen. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, amended SB 260, which would make requirements for collecting signatures for citizen-led constitutional amendments more stringent. SB 260 would require signatures for citizen-led initiatives to come from 50 of Arkansas’ 75 counties. There are questions as to whether the bill is constitutional as it makes a change to language in the state Constitution. Dotson’s amendment adds an emergency clause to the measure.

The Senate approved HB 1196 by Rep. Kendon Underwood, R-Cave Springs, known as the “Housing Welfare Reform Act of 2023.” It would require an individual who is able to work “to work, train, or volunteer” to qualify for and receive public housing benefits. The person would have to work an average of 20 hours or more per week; participate in and comply with the requirements of a work program for 20 hours or more per week; or volunteer at least 20 hours per week. There are exceptions for caregivers, mothers of children under the age of 5, women who are pregnant, and anyone determined to be mentally unfit.

HB 1196 will go to back to the House to concur a Senate amendment to the bill.

In the House State Agencies & Governmental Affairs Committee, Rep. David Ray, R-Maumelle, received a vote to pass HB 1320. This bill would change the process for submitting and gaining approval of ballot titles for citizen-led amendments or initiated acts. Within 10 business days, the Attorney General “shall approve and certify or shall substitute and certify a more suitable and correct ballot title and popular name for each amendment or act.”

The bill know heads to the House.