LITTLE ROCK — Proposed constitutional amendments, Internet sales taxes and guns on college campuses are among the topics expected to receive debate in the sixth week of the Arkansas Legislature’s session.
Wednesday was the deadline for legislators to file proposed constitutional amendments for possible referral to the voters in 2018. House members filed 22 proposals and senators filed 12.
The Legislature can refer up to three proposed constitutional amendments to the ballot during each regular session in an odd-numbered year.
The House and Senate committees on state agencies and governmental affairs traditionally have met jointly to pick measures to refer to the House and Senate, but lawmakers changed their rules this year to allow the committees to meet separately and refer one measure each to their respective chambers.
Lawmakers could refer a third proposal to the ballot with a two-thirds vote of each chamber.
The Senate panel began allowing sponsors to make presentations on their proposed amendments Thursday. The first measure presented was Senate Joint Resolution 1 by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, which would do away with the Legislature’s fiscal sessions held in even-numbered years.
The panel also heard a presentation on SJR 4 by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock. The proposal would end elections for the state Supreme Court and create a selection system in which the governor would submit five names to a nominating committee, the committee would rank the names and could omit up to two, and the governor would then make an appointment to the court, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, said the committee will not take a vote until every Senate sponsor of a proposed amendment has had a chance to appear.
SJR 8 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, which would limit fees and damages in civil lawsuits, is the leading contender among Senate proposals for referral to the ballot.
Fourteen other senators have signed on as co-sponsors of SJR 8, including five members of the eight-member state agencies committee. Fifty-three of the House’s 100 members are co-sponsors, including 13 members of the 20-member House state agencies panel.
“Obviously if there’s five (Senate committee) members that support it, that’ll be coming out,” Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, said last week.
Dismang said he did not know what the second-most likely contender was among Senate resolutions.
The House state agencies panel will begin hearing presentations on proposed constitutional amendments on Wednesday, Rep. Bob Ballinger, the committee’s chairman, said last week.
House Speaker Jeremy Gilliam, R-Judsonia, said last week of the constitutional amendments proposed by House members, “I don’t know that there’s just a clear, overriding one that the members at this point have sunk their teeth into and said, ‘This has got to be the one.’”
Among other things, lawmakers’ proposals would require voters to show photo identification at the polls; make the state Highway Commission part of the executive branch of government; require a petition signed by at least 200,000 registered voters to place a monument or statue on the Capitol grounds; and prohibit an amendment to the constitution from bestowing powers, privileges or authority to specific individuals or business entities identified by name.
Other proposals would declare that the General Assembly is the “sole and exclusive evaluator” of whether the state’s public school system meets constitutional requirements; call for the General Assembly to hold regular sessions every year instead of holding regular sessions in odd-numbered years and fiscal sessions in even-numbered years; write victims’ rights into the constitution; and require a vote of the people to raise state sales taxes.
Internet sales taxes
The House and Senate revenue and taxation committees are expected this week to take up separate bills by Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, and Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, respectively, addressing the issue of collecting sales taxes on Internet purchases.
Senate Bill 140 by Files, which has been approved by the Senate, would require large out-of-state sellers with no physical presence in Arkansas to collect sales taxes on purchases in Arkansas. Current law requires Arkansans to self-report their online purchases for tax purposes.
House Bill 1388 by Douglas, which has been approved by the House, would require online sellers to notify Arkansas customers that they owe sales taxes on their purchases and report the purchases to the state.
The largest online retailer, Amazon, said Friday it will begin collecting sales taxes on purchases in Arkansas. Files and Douglas say their bills are still needed because other Internet sellers are not collecting sales taxes in the state.
Guns on campus
On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up HB 1249 by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, which would allow faculty and staff of public colleges and universities to carry concealed handguns on campus if they have concealed-carry permits, with no option for the schools to say no.
Under a 2013 law also sponsored by Collins, college faculty and staff who have concealed-carry permits can carry guns unless a school opts out — which every school has done since the law took effect. HB 1249, which has been approved by the House, would end the ability of the schools to opt out.