LITTLE ROCK — The ninth week of Arkansas’ legislative session will include the last day of bill filing and likely will see debate over a bill to end the state’s dual holiday celebrating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee, among other measures.
End of bill filing
The last day lawmakers can file bills in a regular session is the 55th day, or the next Monday if the 55th day falls on a weekend, unless two-thirds of the members of both chambers vote to extend the deadline. In this session, Monday is the last filing day.
In the 2015 regular session, legislators filed 2,200 bills. By Friday evening, lawmakers had filed 1,635 bills this session, with a rush of last-minute filings likely Monday.
Measures filed at the end of the filing period often are “shell” bills that contain little information, leaving the details to be provided later through amendments.
Senate Bill 519 by Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville, would designate the second Saturday in October as Robert E. Lee Day, a memorial day to be celebrated by gubernatorial proclamation and not a state holiday. The third Monday in January would be a state holiday known as Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The bill also would require that Arkansas public schools provide instruction on American civil rights leaders, including King, with the instruction timed to correspond with the state and federal King holidays.
Schools also would be required to provide instruction on Arkansas and the Civil War with an emphasis on “civilian and military leadership during the period and how the lessons of that era can inform contemporary society.”
The Senate Education Committee endorsed the bill Thursday and sent it to the Senate. The committee vote was not unanimous.
Ending the state’s dual holiday honoring King and Lee is one of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s policy goals for the session. Mindful of the defeat of a similar bill in 2015, Hutchinson acknowledged last week that the effort will be “an uphill battle.”
“There’s still a lot of sentiment that is left over from the Civil War, believe it or not,” he said.
The Senate could give final passage this week to a bill to allow grocery stores in wet counties to sell wines from any winery.
SB 284 by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, would end a restriction in current law that lets grocery stores in wet counties sell only wines from “small-farm wineries,” defined as wineries that produce no more than 250,000 barrels per year.
Fees paid by grocery stores for wine permits would go into a fund that would be used to provide grants to help support Arkansas’ wine industry.
The Senate passed the bill Feb. 8 in an 18-11 vote. The House rejected the bill Monday but approved it Wednesday in a 53-34 vote.
The House then sent the bill to the Senate for concurrence in a House amendment that would let liquor stores sell “consumables and edible products that complement alcoholic beverages.”
The Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee endorsed the amended version of the bill Thursday. Concurrence in the House amendment by the full Senate is the final hurdle the bill has to clear to go to the governor’s desk.
Many liquor store owners oppose the bill, saying they could not compete with chains like Walmart and Kroger, specially since Arkansas allows one person to hold no more than one liquor store permit.
Grocery store owners have testified that they should be able to provide the products their customers want. Some owners of liquor stores on county lines have agreed to support the bill in exchange for a promise from grocers not to push for elections to turn dry counties wet for the next eight years.
Guns on campus
One of the most contentious bills of the session is 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.
A 2013 law that was sponsored by Collins lets colleges decide whether to allow faculty and staff who have concealed-carry permits to carry guns, and since the law was passed all have chosen not to.
HB 1249 as it was 0riginall filed sought to take away the ability of colleges to opt out. The bill passed in the House last month in a 71-22 vote, but it has stalled in the Senate.
The Senate adopted an amendment by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, to require college faculty and staff to receive 16 hours of active-shooter training before carrying a gun on campus.
Senators later replaced that amendment with one by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, that would 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.
Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas, has 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. To date no vote has been taken on adopting her amendment.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Jeremy Hutchinson’s uncle, has said he favors a training requirement but has not said whether he would veto the bill if it reaches his desk without one.
Several bills related to the rollout of Arkansas’ medical-marijuana program are working their way through the Legislature. Some are aimed at facilitating the program and some seek to impose limitations on it.
In the latter category is SB 357 by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, which would ban the smoking of marijuana anywhere in the state.
Rapert has argued that smoking is unhealthy and should not be part of any health program. Opponents say that when voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana in November, they surely had smoking in mind as one way to consume the drug.
SB 333 by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, would ban food and drink products made with marijuana. Supporters say the bill would prevent children from mistakenly consuming marijuana in products like candy, while opponents say banning marijuana in both smoking and edible forms would leave patients with few ways to consume the drug.
The Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee approved both bills and sent them to the Senate last week. The measures would need a two-thirds vote in each chamber to be sent to the governor.