House approves school bus safety bill


LITTLE ROCK — The House voted 65-18 Thursday to approve a bill that would would allow patrons of a public school district to petition the district to equip new school buses with seat belts or other passenger restraint systems.


Under House Bill 1002 by Rep. Mark McElroy D-Tillar, if at least 10 percent of qualified voters in a district sign a petition seeking seat belts, the district would be required to propose a property tax increase to pay for the equipment.


If the tax increase is improved, any school bus purchased new for use in the district on or after Jan. 1, 2018, would have to be equipped with seat belts or other passenger restraints. Students riding on a bus equipped with seat belts or other restraints would be required to use them at all times while the bus is in motion.


The bill goes to the Senate.


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Senate OKs maternity leave bill


LITTLE ROCK — The Senate voted 31-0 Thursday to approve a bill that would allow state employees to donate accrued sick leave and vacation days into a “catastrophic leave bank” that a state worker who has been employed for at least a year could draw upon for paid maternity leave.


Senate Bill 125 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, would not require any new state spending. Arkansas currently does not provide paid maternity leave to state employees.


The bill goes to the House.


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Senate approves bill to expand animal cruelty law


LITTLE ROCK — In a 33-0 vote, the Senate on Thursday approved a bill to replace the word “horse” with “equine” in Arkansas’ animal-cruelty law.


Senate Bill 280 by Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, is intended to allow prosecutors to charge people with animal cruelty for abusing mules and donkeys as well as horses.


The bill goes to the House.


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Marijuana cultivation bill advances


LITTLE ROCK — The Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation Thursday to a bill that would let the state Medical Marijuana Commission decide whether to allow a medical-marijuana dispensary to grow marijuana plants.


The constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana that voters approved in November allows a dispensary to grow up to 50 marijuana plants at a time. Senate Bill 254 by Sen. Greg Standridge, R-Russellville, would give the commission control over whether dispensaries could grow marijuana.


The bill would not allow the commission to authorize a dispensary to grow more than 50 plants. It would not affect the ability of cultivation centers to grow marijuana.


The bill goes to the Senate.


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Bills on medical-marijuana licenses advance


LITTLE ROCK — The House Rules Committee on Thursday advanced two bills on medical marijuana that stalled in the committee a day earlier.


The committee endorsed House Bill 1298 by Rep. Douglas House, R-North Little Rock, which would require that a license to operate a cultivation facility or dispensary be issued to a person, not a corporation.


The panel also advanced HB 1371 by House, which would require that a person applying for a license to operate a cultivation facility or dispensary be an Arkansas resident who has lived in the state for the past seven years. The same requirement would apply to people owning at least 60 percent interest in a facility.


The bills go to the House.