LITTLE ROCK — Proposals to let grocery stores sell wine from any winery, allow guns on college campuses, collect state sales taxes on Internet purchases, require voters to show photo identification and restrict civil suits are under debate as Arkansas’ legislative session goes into its eighth week.
The House is expected this week to consider Senate Bill 284 by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, which would let grocery stores sell wines of all types.
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 have testified in committee that they would not be on a level playing field with large chains such as Wal-Mart Stores if the bill were to become law. Representatives of grocery stores, including Wal-Mart, have argued that they should be allowed to offer their customers the products they want.
The bill narrowly passed in the Senate earlier this month in an 18-11 vote, receiving exactly the number of votes needed to clear the chamber.
Gun on campus
House Bill 1249 by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, a measure aimed at allowing some people to carry concealed handguns on the campuses of public colleges and universities, easily cleared the House earlier this month in a 71-22 vote, but in the Senate it has become ensnared in debate over how restrictive it should be.
Collins sponsored a 2103 law that allows college faculty and staff to carry guns if they have concealed-carry permits, with a provision allowing the schools to opt out. Every school has opted out since the law was passed, so Collins proposed with HB 1249 to remove the opt-out provision.
The Senate has amended the bill to allow any person age 25 or older who has a concealed-carry permit to receive up to 16 hours of additional training and qualify for an endorsement allowing him or her to carry a handgun on a college campus.
The National Rifle Association supported the bill in its original form, but it withdrew its support when the training and age requirements were added. On Thursday, Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas, filed an NRA-backed proposed amendment to allow anyone with a concealed-carry permit to carry a concealed handgun on a college campus with no training necessary beyond what is currently required to obtain a permit.
Collins-Smith sought Thursday to have the bill sent to committee for consideration of her amendment, but the Senate rejected her request. The Senate has not yet voted on the bill.
The issue puts the NRA at odds with Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who formerly led an NRA task force that recommended allowing trained personnel to carry guns at schools. Hutchinson supports the training requirement in HB 1249.
Internet sales tax
Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, said last week he has not given up on SB 140, his bill aimed at collecting sales taxes on Internet purchases, even though it has been rejected twice by the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.
Arkansas has a little-followed law on the books that requires residents to pay a consumer use tax on purchases from out-of-state companies. As originally filed, SB 140 would require an out-of-state seller with no physical presence in Arkansas that sells more than $100,000 worth of products or makes at least 200 transactions in Arkansas in a calendar year to begin collecting sales taxes on purchases in the state.
The House tax panel has voted to adopt an amendment, supported by Files, to allow a seller either to collect the tax or to report purchases to the state for tax collection purposes and notify customers in Arkansas that they are required to pay a consumer use tax to the state.
Democrats, who control half the seats on the committee, have twice blocked the bill after their efforts to earmark sales tax revenue for needs such as early childhood education were rebuffed. But they agreed to expunge the second vote by which the bill failed, which allows Files to bring it back a third time.
House Bill 1388 by Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, which would require an online seller to notify customers in Arkansas of existing law and report their purchases to the state, has cleared the House and a Senate committee and is awaiting a Senate floor vote.
Amazon recently said it will begin collecting sales taxes in Arkansas, but other online sellers are not collecting taxes in the state.
Two proposals to require voters to show photo identification at the polls are working their way through the Legislature.
House Bill 1047 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, has cleared the House and a Senate committee and is awaiting a Senate floor vote. The bill would write a voter ID requirement into state law.
House Joint Resolution 1016 by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, passed in the House last week and has been referred to the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee. The measure would, if referred to the November 2018 ballot and approved by voters, write a voter ID requirement into the state constitution.
The measures are supported by most Republican legislators, who say a voter ID requirement would increase voters’ faith in the integrity of elections. Most Democratic legislators oppose such a requirement, which they say would disenfranchise some eligible voters while targeting an issue, voter impersonation at the polls, that does not exist.
A 2013 law that required voters to show photo ID at the polls was ruled unconstitutional by the Arkansas Supreme Court in 2014. Lowery and Lundstrum say their proposals would stand up to court challenges.
Senate Joint Resolution 8 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain Home, would, if referred to the ballot and approved next year by voters, impose limits on civil suits and give the Legislature power over court rules.
The measure cleared the Senate in a 21-10 vote earlier this month and is awaiting a vote in the House, where 53 of the 100 members are co-sponsors.
In its current form, the bill would cap damages in civil suits for harm that cannot be measured in money, such as pain and suffering or death, at $500,000 and would cap punitive damages at $500,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages.
It also would cap attorneys’ contingency fees at one-third of the net amount recovered by a client and give the Legislature authority to change and repeal court rules and create new court rules with a three-fifths vote.
A 2003 law that imposed limits on civil suits has been dismantled by a series of Arkansas Supreme Court rulings that held various provisions to be unconstitutional because they exceeded the authority of the legislative branch.