Bill to let grocery stores sell all wines advances

LITTLE ROCK — The House Rules Committee on Wednesday advanced a bill to let grocery stores sell wines of all types.

In a voice vote that was not unanimous, the panel gave a “do pass” recommendation to Senate Bill 284 by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs.

Under current law, grocery stores can obtain permits to sell wines only from “small-farm wineries,” defined as wineries that produce no more than 250,000 barrels of wine per year. Hester’s bill would allow grocery stores to apply for permits to sell wine from a winery of any size.

The measure also would create a grant program to help support Arkansas’ wine industry.

Representatives of wineries and liquor stores told the committee they would not be on a level playing field with large chains such as Wal-Mart Stores. Representatives of grocery stores, including Wal-Mart, told the panel they should be allowed to offer their customers the products they want.

The bill, which passed previously in the Senate, goes next to the House.


Hutchinson signs government restructuring bills

LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday signed three bills making shifts within state government that he had asked for as part of a plan to increase efficiency.

Hutchinson signed Senate Bill 255 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain Home, which places War Memorial Stadium under the control of the state Department of Parks and Tourism; SB 256 by Irvin, which puts the Arkansas Energy Office under the control of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality; and SB 257 by Irvin, which puts the Office of Health Information Technology under the control of the Arkansas Department of Health.

The eight-member War Memorial Stadium Commission will continue to exist under the bill, but its decisions will be subject to the approval of the director of the Parks and Tourism Department.

In October, Hutchinson announced he wanted to move control of the stadium from the commission to the Parks and Tourism Department. He also included in his proposed budget a reduction of funding for the stadium from $895,171 in fiscal 2018 to $447,647 in fiscal 2019. The stadium was allocated $889,085 in fiscal 2017.

“These realignment and cost-savings efforts continue my focus on making state government more efficient for the citizens of our state,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “We’ve already seen significant benefits and savings from the agency consolidations of 2015, and I am confident we will achieve even greater savings as we continue to streamline services and responsibly utilize taxpayer dollars.”


Senate approves amendment to campus carry bill

LITTLE ROCK — The Senate voted 21-10 Wednesday to approve an amendment to a bill to allow some people to carry concealed handguns on college campuses.

Senators approved an amendment to 1249 by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, but did not vote on the bill itself, which passed previously in the House.

As originally filed, the bill would allow faculty and staff of public colleges and universities to carry handguns on campus if they have concealed-carry permits.

The amendment approved Wednesday, offered by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, would allow any person age 25 or older with a concealed-carry permit to receive active-shooter training to qualify for an endorsement allowing him or her to carry a handgun on a college campus.

The Arkansas State Police would create the training course, which could be no more than 16 hours.

A 2013 law, also sponsored by Collins, allows faculty and staff of public colleges and universities to carry concealed handguns on campus if they have concealed-carry permits, but it also allows schools to opt out, and every school has done so. HB 1249 would eliminate the opt-out provision.


Bill on drug-testing welfare recipients goes to governor

LITTLE ROCK — The House voted 72-18 Wednesday to approve and send to the governor a bill to create a statewide drug screening and testing program for recipients of benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Senate Bill 123 by Sen. Blake Johnson, R-Corning, which passed previously in the House, would expand a pilot program the Legislature approved in 2015. Currently, the program only affects TANF recipients in counties that border states that have adopted drug screening or testing programs for TANF recipients.

When the screening process determines that there is reasonable cause to believe a TANF recipient is using illegal drugs, the person must undergo a drug test. A person who tests positive for illegal drugs becomes ineligible to receive benefits for six months.


House OK bill to require high school civics test

LITTLE ROCK — The House voted 81-4 Wednesday to approve a bill to require Arkansas high school students to pass a civics test as a condition for graduation.

The committee gave a “do pass” recommendation to House Bill 1539 by its chairman, Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs.

The bill would require students to pass the civics portion of the naturalization test given to immigrants by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. A student would have to answer 60 out of 100 questions correctly to pass. The were would be no limit on the number of times a student could retake the test.

The bill goes to the Senate.