LITTLE ROCK — A bill that would cut off state-issued grants to Planned Parenthood narrowly failed Friday in the Senate.
The vote on Senate Bill 818 was 17-9, with 18 votes needed for passage.
Planned Parenthood, which funds abortions and provides community assistance in a number of other areas, receives about $70,000 annually in federal grants awarded through the state Department of Health to provide educational programs on sexually transmitted disease prevention in some Little Rock schools.
SB 818 by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, would bar state grants to any entity that performs abortions or provides abortion referrals, contracts with a person or entity that performs abortions or abortion referrals, or is an affiliate of a person or entity that performs abortions or referrals.
"What we have chosen to do here in this this bill is to discriminate against a particular entity," said Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, who opposed the measure. "We have chosen not to name it because legal … precedent says you can’t discriminate against any particular group."
Stubblefield said the bill was not targeting Planned Parenthood and "it applies to any organization that provides abortions or abortion referrals."
Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, argued the Planned Parenthood’s contract has nothing to do with abortions or abortion referrals.
Stubblefield said the intent of the bill was simply to prohibit grant money that flows to the Health Department from going to organizations that provide abortions. He also said there would not be a reduction in the services provided in the grant because the grants are awarded competitively through the Health Department and there are number of other organizations that can offer the same services and do not provide or make referrals for abortions.
"No programs will be affected … no programs will be discontinued and no programs will go without services," Stubblefield said.
On a 15-10 vote, the Senate defeated SB 1093 by Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock. The bill would allow for a racial impact study on any bill that would create a new criminal offense; significantly change an existing offense or the penalty for an existing offense; or change existing sentencing, parole or probation procedures.
Under the bill, if a racial impact statement shows that a bill would have a disparate impact on minorities, the sponsor would be required to amend the bill to lessen the impact on minorities, withdraw the bill or explain why he or she is proceeding with the bill without amending it.
Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, argued the study wasn’t needed and that it could slow down the legislative process.
""I think this is a terrible bill," he said, adding it would be a "tall burden to overcome" for a lawmaker to get a bill passed.
SB 1147 by Chesterfield, which would require a study of the impact of school discipline on student achievement, passed 18-8.
Chesterfield said the state Department of Higher Education already collects the data.
She said she would amend a section of the proposal in the House that would require the state Department of Education to release the names of the 24 schools with the highest rates of disciplinary disparity.
The bill now goes to the House.
The Senate also endorsed a House amendment on SB 417 by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, which would change the definition of "unborn child" in criminal and wrongful death statutes. The bill was then approved 35-0 and goes to the governor.
The amendment added exemptions for certain situations, including contraception and in vitro fertilization procedures.
Under current law, criminal charges and wrongful death lawsuits can be brought against a person who harms a fetus at 12 weeks or more of gestation. SB 417 would allow action against a person who harms an unborn child at any point from conception to birth.
In the House Friday, members voted 84-1 to approve House Bill 1785 by Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville. Under the bill, starting in the 2014-15 school year all public school districts and public charter schools would be required to offer at least one course in which digital learning is either the primary or a supplemental method of instruction. The bill goes to the Senate.
The House also approved a motion by Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, D-Warren, to reconsider its vote Thursday rejecting SB 1075 by Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, which would raise the excise tax on alternative fuels from 5 cents per cubic foot to 21.5 cents per cubic foot over four years.
The bill had passed Thursday in a 52-26 vote, but after members asked to sound the ballot — a procedure in which members must be in their seats for their votes to be counted — the bill failed in a 50-26 vote. It needed 51 to pass.
On Friday the bill passed 51-34, but members again asked to sound the ballot, and the bill ultimately failed 50-34.