LITTLE ROCK — The House on Friday approved a bill that would allow judges to send some criminal defendants to rehabilitation programs as an alternative to sentencing them to prison.
House Bill 1470 by Rep. Darrin Williams, D-Little Rock, would allow judges and judicial districts to create pre-adjudication programs which some defendants could complete to avoid being sentenced.The bill seeks to ease prison overcrowding and rehabilitate offenders without incarcerating them.
The programs would be similar to drug courts, Williams told House members.
"There’s no appropriation, no additional money. If a judicial district wanted to do this, they’d have to do it with the current resources they already have," he said.
The bill passed 91-0 and goes to the Senate.
The House also approved HB 1895 by Rep. John Catlett, D-Rover, which would allow a state employee to donate accrued sick leave or annual leave to a fellow employee who has a severe illness or an immediate family member who is severely ill. The bill passed 85-1 and goes to the Senate.
The Senate did not meet Friday.
Elsewhere Friday, the House Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee rejected HB 1536 by Rep. Randy Alexander, R-Fayetteville, which would allow unpasteurized milk to be sold in Arkansas by Arkansas milk producers whose average monthly sales of unpasteurized milk do not exceed 500 gallons.
The bill would allow the state Board of Health to establish rules for inspecting facilities where raw milk is produced.
Alexander told the committee that some states allow the sale of raw milk in stores. He said the bill would help small dairy farms and would support individual liberties.
"In my view, diluting the God-given freedom of our people is what constitutes an unacceptable risk," he said. "That erosion of our rights is a clear and present danger to our citizens and even to our way of life."
The bill is opposed by the state Department of Health, the state Department of Agriculture, the Arkansas Farm Bureau and the Arkansas Milk Stabilization Board.
Testifying against the bill, Mike Flagg, general manager of Hiland Dairy in Little Rock and a member of the Milk Stabilization Board, said the pasteurization process kills dangerous pathogens.
"We look at the raw milk (we receive from farmers) under a microscope." he said. "It’s one of the first things we do. And it’s pretty scary, some of the loads that come in."
Testifying in support of the bill, Lee Richardson, a chef at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock, said an advantage of raw milk is that after the cream is removed, the milk can stay fresh for months.
"My wife can drink that. She can’t drink milk that’s been pasteurized," he said.
The bill failed in an 8-9 vote. It needed 11 votes to clear the 20-member panel.
Alexander said after the hearing he plans to try again with the bill this session, and "if we have to, we’ll bring it up next session. I think it’s a matter of time till it passes."
Regarding the safety concerns raised by Flagg and others, Alexander said, "There are safety concerns on any food. They’re minuscule, from what I’ve read. I believe Hiland Dairy and others have a financial interest in this, and I don’t blame them for that. They’re in business to make money."
Also Friday, the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee gave a "do pass" recommendation to HB 1855 by Rep. Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, which would make prosecuting attorney elections nonpartisan.
The committee previously endorsed another bill by Shepherd, HB 1412, that also would have made prosecuting attorney elections nonpartisan. That bill also would have moved prosecuting attorney elections to May, when nonpartisan judicial elections are held, and would have called for runoff elections in both types of races to be held in June instead of November, when runoffs in nonpartisan elections are held now.
After HB 1412 was defeated in the House, Shepherd filed HB 1855, which would leave nonpartisan runoff elections in November.
"There were those who had some concerns about moving the runoff for the judicial elections, and so … we decided to not take up moving the runoff," Shepherd said after the hearing.
The bill goes to the House.