The first bills filed for the General Assembly's 2019 session would bar abortion on the basis of a Down syndrome diagnosis, overhaul Arkansas' partisan elections, require online retailers to collect sales tax and designate the Bowie knife as the official state knife.
Thursday was the first day lawmakers could pre-file legislation in anticipation of next year's session. Four lawmakers introduced eight bills and two joint resolutions.
Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, filed a pair of abortion-related bills; a bill that would create a task force to address veteran suicide; and bills that would designate the shotgun and Bowie knife as the official firearm and knife of Arkansas.
The first abortion-related measure -- Senate Bill 2 -- would prohibit an abortion if the mother is seeking the procedure over the belief that the fetus has Down syndrome. A similar Ohio law was blocked by a federal judge earlier this year; that ruling is on appeal.
Garner's second abortion measure -- Senate Bill 3 -- would require physicians to report certain details about any abortion complications.
"I specifically wanted those abortion bills to be first to show how much I and the state care about the unborn," Garner said.
The General Assembly will convene Jan. 14 for the 2019 regular session. The Legislature meets for a regular session every odd-numbered year, and it meets for fiscal sessions in even-numbered years.
One of the resolutions introduced Thursday -- House Joint Resolution 1002 by Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville -- would do away with the biennial fiscal sessions. If approved, the resolution would be referred to the 2020 ballot for a popular vote.
Douglas, in a Thursday phone interview, said the fiscal sessions are unnecessary, and he speculated that their creation was because some legislators wanted to draw more per-diem pay. Fiscal sessions were proposed by the Legislature and approved by voters. The first one was held in 2010.
"We come down here for 28 days in the fiscal session and twiddle our thumbs," Douglas said. "It's disgusting and a total waste of taxpayer dollars."
A similar resolution was introduced in 2017, but it wasn't referred to the ballot.
The pieces of legislation filed Thursday were:
• Senate Bill 2 by Garner, "To create the Down Syndrome discrimination by abortion prohibition act."
• Senate Bill 3 by Garner, "To require additional reporting requirements by certain physicians and healthcare facilities for abortion complications."
• Senate Bill 4 by Garner, "To create the Arkansas Legislative Task Force on Veterans Affairs."
• Senate Bill 5 by Garner, "To designate the Bowie knife as the official state knife."
• Senate Bill 6 by Garner, "To designate the shotgun as the official state firearm."
• House Bill 1002 by Douglas, "To require certain out-of-state sellers to collect and remit Arkansas sales and use tax."
• House Joint Resolution 1001 by Douglas, "An amendment to the Arkansas Constitution requiring the General Assembly to establish by law a revised election process."
• House Joint resolution 1002 by Douglas, "An amendment to the Arkansas Constitution to abolish the fiscal session of the General Assembly; and to provide that the General Assembly meet every two (2) years."
• Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, "To allow members of the General Assembly to attend hearings held under the Arkansas Juvenile Code of 1989."
• House Bill 1003 by Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, "To amend the antibullying policy; to require antibullying training; to create the positions of antibullying specialist and district antibullying coordinator; and to establish a week of kindness."
Garner said he filed the Bowie knife and shotgun bills because they're good for state morale. In 2017, the General Assembly designated the Arkansaurus fridayi as the state dinosaur.
Garner said the shotgun makes sense as the state's firearm because of the quality of duck hunting here. The Bowie knife, he said, also has a special place in the state's history.
"There's a lot of important issues," Garner said. "But it's also good to put good symbols of Arkansas pride out there."
The Bowie knife also has a unique place in Arkansas legislative history. In 1837, House Speaker John Wilson of Clark County stabbed Rep. Joseph Anthony of Randolph County to death on the House floor over an argument about a bill, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.
Wilson was acquitted of murder under dubious circumstances, according to the encyclopedia.
Douglas filed a bill similar to HB1002 in 2017 that would have required out-of-state retailers to collect sales tax, but it died in the House after passing the Senate.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson indicated Wednesday that he expected the tax legislation to pass, and he accounted for the increased revenue in his fiscal 2020 and 2021 budgets.
Douglas said the bill failed in 2017, in part, because some legislators were concerned about the constitutionality of imposing state sales-tax requirements on out-of-state retailers, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that states have the authority to collect and remit such taxes.
The bill, Douglas said, would restore fairness to retailers with locations in Arkansas that have been disadvantaged compared with those that are from elsewhere.
"I hate taxes, and I wish we could do away with the sales tax," Douglas said. "But one thing we have to be is fair and equitable in the collection of our taxes and make sure we treat people as fair as possible. This is just not fair to local retailers."
Douglas also introduced a resolution that proposes changing Arkansas' current partisan primary election system to a nonpartisan blanket primary -- commonly called a "jungle primary." Instead of using the primary process to select a Democrat and Republican to compete in the general election, the primary would be open to all candidates, regardless of party, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election. The resulting general election, for example, could result in a race between two candidates of the same party.
California, Louisiana and Washington use such primaries across the board; Nebraska uses them in state legislative races.
The proposal, Douglas said, would boost voter turnout during the primary election, which is typically low, and it would encourage candidates to appeal to their entire constituency rather than those on the extreme side of one party.
"Your base becomes the entire district, not just one segment," he said.
Senate President Pro Tempore-elect Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, said it was too early to determine what issues most lawmakers agreed should be referred to the 2020 ballot. The Legislature can refer three constitutional amendments to the ballot each regular session.
Asked why he filed a resolution that would change primary elections on the first day of pre-filing, Douglas said he wanted to start the conversation.
"The first bills filed typically get a little more sunshine on them," he said.
Metro on 11/16/2018