Bill to allow college merger sent to governor


LITTLE ROCK — The Senate voted 26-5 Monday to approve a bill to allow the merger of Crowley’s Ridge Technical Institute in Forrest City into the neighboring East Arkansas Community College if the governing boards of both schools vote to approve such a merger.


House Bill 1543 by Rep. Steve Hollowell, R-Forrest City, passed previously in the House and now goes to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has said he favors the proposed merger for the sake of efficiency.


The proposed merger is estimated to save $1 million a year in administrative costs.


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Senate OKs bill to ban abortions based on child’s sex


LITTLE ROCK — The Senate voted 30-3 Monday to approve a bill to prohibit a doctor from performing an abortion on a woman if he or she knows the woman is seeking an abortion solely because of the sex of the unborn child.


Under HB 1434 by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville,, before a doctor could perform an abortion, he or she would be required to ask the woman if she knows the sex of her unborn child. If the woman answers that she does, the doctor would be required to request the woman’s medical records relating to her pregnancy.


The doctor would be prohibited from performing an abortion on the woman until “reasonable time and effort” has been spent to obtain the records.


A doctor who performs an abortion on a woman despite knowing that she is seeking an abortion solely because of the sex of the unborn child would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.


The doctor also could have his or her medical license suspended or revoked and would be subject to civil liability. A lawsuit could be filed against the doctor by the woman who received the abortion or her parent or guardian if she is a minor or incompetent.


The bill passed previously in the House. It now goes back to that chamber for concurrence in a Senate amendment.


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House approves bill to keep primary in March


LITTLE ROCK — The House voted 73-10 Thursday to approve a bill to keep the state’s primary election on the first Tuesday in March.


In 2015, the Legislature enacted a measure to move the primary from May to March for the 2016 election cycle only. House Bill 1707 by Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne, would make the change permanent.


The bill goes to the Senate, which rejected a similar Senate bill in January.


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Senate OKs “American laws for American courts’ bill


LITTLE ROCK — The Senate voted 22-9 Monday to approve a bill to require that only American laws be considered in American courts.


House Bill 1041 by Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro, would prohibit the application of foreign laws in an Arkansas court when the application of a foreign law would result in the violation of a fundamental right guaranteed by the Arkansas or U.S. Constitution.


The bill passed previously in the House. It now goes back to that chamber for concurrence in a Senate amendment.


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Bill to keep repeat offenders behind bars longer advances


LITTLE ROCK — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday advanced a bill to increase prison time for repeat offenders.


Under Senate Bill 177 by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, a person who has been committed to the custody of the state Department of Correction three or more times previously and is committed again would have to serve at least 80 percent of his or her sentence before becoming eligible for parole.


King told the committee the bill’s cost the state is estimated at $19 million in fiscal 2018 and would grow each year, reaching an estimated $121 million in 2020.


He said he will propose ways to pay for the bill. He also said the cost estimates by the state’s fiscal office do not taken into account the money that would be saved by reducing the number of crimes committed by repeat offenders who are released on parole.


Solomon Graves, spokesman for the state Department of Correction, testified against the bill, saying it would add 6,000 inmates to the state’s prison population by 2026, an increase he said would be impossible to accommodate with current prison capacity.


The bill goes to the Senate.


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House rejects bill to limit school districts’ carryover funds


LITTLE ROCK — The House on Monday rejected a bill to require public school districts with large carryover fund balances to reduce those balances.


Under House Bill 1575 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, if a school district’s net fund balance at the end of a fiscal year is greater than 20 percent of its net revenues for that year, the district would be required to reduce its balance to no more than 20 percent of revenue within five years.


The district would be required to reduce the balance by 20 percent of the total required reduction each year. The bill suggests using the excess money on programs such as pre-kindergarten education, remediation or career and technical education.


Lowery said the state’s public school districts are sitting on a total of $790 million in funds carried over from the last school year and said some of that money should be used to help students.


Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, spoke against the bill, saying legislators would never tell their constituents to spend extra money after a good year without concern for whether the next year might be different.


The bill initially passed in a 51-20 vote, but there was a call to sound the ballot, a procedure in which every member must be in his or her seat for the member’s vote to be counted. The sounding of the ballot reduced the “yes” vote to 50, one short of the number needed for passage in the 100-member House.


Lowery moved to expunge the vote so he could seek another vote on the bill at a later date, and the motion passed.


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Bill to allow serving alcohol at Christmas advances


LITTLE ROCK — The House Rules Committee on Monday advanced a bill to allow businesses that sell alcohol for on-premises consumption to do so on Christmas Day, which currently is illegal.


Rep. Karilyn Brown, R-Sherwood, told the committee House Bill 1761 would benefit hotel restaurants which often serve customers from other states who expect to be able to order drinks on the holiday.


The bill goes to the House.