LITTLE ROCK — Bills to ban cellphones in public schools, eliminate vaccination exemptions for religious or philosophical beliefs, restrict abortions and prohibit the application of foreign laws in Arkansas courts are among bills filed by state lawmakers in the past week.
Legislators are filing bills in advance of the session that begins Jan. 9.
Cellphones in schools
Rep. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, filed House Bill 1036, which would prohibit the unauthorized use by students of cellphones and other portable electronic devices in public schools.
Under HB 1036, each school would be required to establish a designated area where students could deposit portable electronic devices upon arriving at school and retrieve them at the end of the school day. A device that a student fails to deposit in the designated area would be subject to forfeiture.
Hendren said teachers and school administrators asked him to file the bill because of a growing problem with cellphone use by students in class. He said he is concerned that a generation of young people is being taught that it is not necessary to show respect to others.
“If I’m teaching a Bible study class or I’m teaching a class (in school) or even if I’m in the well at the House of Representatives, at least give me the decency to listen to me,” he said.
Rep. Karilyn Brown, R-Sherwood, filed HB 1043, which would eliminate vaccination exemptions for religious or philosophical beliefs.
Brown said health agencies say vaccinations in schools are only successful if most of the students are immunized. She said misconceptions about vaccines have discouraged many from allowing their children to be immunized, which she said may be the reason for this year’s mumps outbreak in Arkansas.
“We practically eliminated these diseases, and now to have an outbreak of mumps? I haven’t known of children having mumps for so long,” she said.
Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro, filed HB 1041, which would prohibit the application of foreign laws in an Arkansas court when the application of a foreign law would result in the violation of a fundamental right guaranteed by the Arkansas or U.S. Constitution.
Smith filed a similar bill in 2015 that passed in the House but died in the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said he filed the bill with Sharia law in mind, but “the word Sharia law is not mentioned in the bill, so it’s all-inclusive.”
HB 1041 lists several fundamental rights, including “the right to marry, as ‘marriage’ is defined by Arkansas Constitution, Amendment 83.”
Amendment 83, approved by voters in 2004, defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. It has been ruled unconstitutional, and gay marriage has been legalized nationwide by a June 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Smith said he used mostly the same language from his 2015 version of the bill, which predated the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage.
“We may need to go back and look at some of that language,” he said.
Rep.-elect Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, filed House Bill 1032, which would ban dilation and evacuation, an abortion procedure in which the cervix is dilated and surgical instruments are used to extract the contents of the uterus. The bill calls the procedure a “dismemberment abortion.”
Under HB 1032, performing such a procedure, except when necessary to prevent a serious health risk to the mother, would be a Class D felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. A person who performs such a procedure also would be liable for civil damages.
Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, filed HB 1035, which would allow food stamps to be used only for foods with sufficient nutritional value. The state Department of Human Services would be responsible for determining what foods qualify.
Smith filed HB 1042, which would prohibit a public college or university in the state from adopting a “sanctuary policy,” or a policy of not cooperating with federal officials in enforcing federal immigration laws.
Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, filed Senate Bill 21, which would require a person applying for an elementary-level teaching license to pass the Foundations of Reading Test and the General Curriculum Test of the Massachusetts Tests for Education Licensure.
Clark also filed SB 26, which would allow a recipient of a lottery-funded scholarship to receive an enhanced scholarship of up to $10,000 if the student is enrolled in a teacher education program and agrees to teach in Arkansas for at least five years in a high-need subject area.
Clark also filed SB 27, which would create a program to provide loans to students to finance their college educations if they are working toward a degree that would allow them to teach in a high-need subject area and agree to teach in Arkansas for five years in a part of the state where a teacher shortage exists. The loans would be forgiven at a rate of 20 percent for each year that a recipient teaches in a shortage area.
Mayberry filed HB 1033, which would use money from the state’s 1999 settlement with tobacco companies to reduce the waiting list for home- and community-based services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, filed SB 20, which would make it a Class Y felony to commit aggravated assault upon a law enforcement officer or an employee of a correctional facility. A Class Y felony is punishable by 10 to 40 years or life in prison.