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State Capitol briefs

by Michael R. Wickline | February 14, 2017 at 2:45 a.m. | Updated February 14, 2017 at 2:45 a.m.

House, Senate OK telemedicine bills

Both chambers approved companion bills Monday that would expand the availability of telemedicine to include smartphones and computers.

The House voted 90-2 to approve House Bill 1437, which would remove restrictions on telemedicine enacted in 2015, while also approving new limitations for how the services can be offered in schools. Rep. Deborah Ferguson, D-West Memphis, sponsored the bill.

It is identical to Senate Bill 146, which the Senate approved 30-0. Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, sponsors it.

Ferguson told representatives that the state took a "very conservative step into telemedicine" two years ago when it passed a law requiring patients be in a doctor's office for initial examinations.

She said the legislation would make it easier for people in rural communities to meet with physicians.

The new restrictions on school-based telemedicine would require that children receive a primary care physician's permission before an exam is conducted at school.

-- John Moritz and Michael R. Wickline

Governor gets billon Gold Star shrine

The Arkansas House of Representatives passed a bill that would require the secretary of state to permit and arrange for the placement of a monument commemorating Gold Star families on the Capitol grounds.

"I can tell you, when you are with one of those service members as they take their last breath -- in the last few seconds of their life -- their family is what is on their mind," said Rep. Trevor Drown, R-Dover, the House sponsor of the bill and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

"One of my team members passed away on March 25 of 2006 and I was the one who shared that -- the last moment of his life. He went through his family. He told me he was dying, and then he asked for his mom."

In a 96-0 vote, the House sent Senate Bill 244 by Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, to the governor.

Under the bill, the monument must be designed and constructed in the manner recommended by the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation or in a manner similar to the design recommended by the foundation. The secretary of state would be required to approve the design and site selection for the monument in consultation with the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission.

Under the bill, the secretary of state may accept gifts, grants and donations from individuals and organizations to be deposited as trust funds into the Gold Star Family Memorial Monument Fund.

-- Brian Fanney

House clears effort to bar stolen valor

Legislation that would outlaw the impersonation of active or former military for the purpose of personal gain was approved Monday by the House 90-0.

House Bill 1466 would make the act of "stolen valor" a Class C misdemeanor. The bill proposes a variety of scenarios for stolen valor -- from presenting a fake military ID to falsely claiming to have received military honor -- with the intention of obtaining benefits unavailable to civilians.

Class C misdemeanors are punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine up to $500. A second offense is a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine.

Any fines collected from offenders of the measure would be sent to the veterans nursing home in North Little Rock, according to the bill by Rep. Trevor Drown, R-Dover.

-- John Moritz

Senate makes drug tests a must for aid

Legislation that would make permanent a two-year pilot program of drug screening and testing for applicants and recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program cleared the Senate on Monday.

The 26-7 vote sent Senate Bill 123 by Sen. Blake Johnson, R-Corning, to the House.

Johnson said the Department of Workforce Services wants to continue drug screening because it helps identify drug users in the assistance program.

The program has cost the department about $30,000, and "getting those people ready for the workforce" is the reason behind the program, he said.

Department Director Daryl Bassett reported to the Legislature that about 3,040 individuals were screened for drugs from April 3-Dec. 31, and there was reasonable suspicion of illegal drug use for 17 of them. Eleven of the 17 refused to take a drug test, while the other six took the drug test. Johnson said the 11 assistance recipients who refused to take the test lost their program benefits for six months.

Two individuals tested positive on the drug test and were referred to drug counseling and/or treatment, but declined to participate, so they did not receive their program benefits, Bassett reported. Three others received a negative result on the drug test and another is pending confirmation of their results, while no one received a positive result on a drug test for a second or subsequent time, Bassett reported.

-- Michael R. Wickline

Public school bill returned to House

The Senate approved a bill to allow a public school district or open-enrollment public charter school to allow a private school or home school student to enroll in an academic course at a public school.

The student would have to reside in the district where the public school is located.

The Senate's 34-0 vote sent House Bill 1208 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, back to the House to consider a Senate-approved amendment.

Under the bill, the school district or open-enrollment charter school may set admissions criteria, allow a student who attends a private school or a home school to enroll in one or more academic classes in a semester, and limit enrollment to certain academic courses, grade levels or other criteria.

The district or charter school that enrolls a private or home-schooled student would be entitled to an amount equal to one-sixth of the state foundation funding for each academic course the student takes.

-- Michael R. Wickline

A Section on 02/14/2017

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