Capitol news in brief

State Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, is shown in this file photo.
State Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, is shown in this file photo.

Bill bans abortions if Roe overturned

State Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, filed legislation Tuesday that would ban almost all abortions in Arkansas should the U.S. Supreme Court reverse its 46-year-old precedent in Roe v. Wade.

Only an abortion due to a "medical emergency" would be allowed under Senate Bill 149. Tuesday was the anniversary of the Roe decision, which guarantees women the right to an abortion.

SB149 includes a section that would delay its effective date until the state attorney general certifies that the nation's highest court has overturned Roe.

Prior to the regular legislative session, some lawmakers had weighed the idea of filing a complete abortion ban that would serve as a direct challenge to Roe. Rapert said Tuesday that SB149 would serve to end abortions "on the chance that we are not successful in other ways," referring to cases now moving through the courts.

Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, called the bill "a maneuver by a group of politicians to put their own political careers ahead of a woman's right" to choose whether to remain pregnant.

[RELATED: Complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature]

Advocates for ending legalized abortion largely believe that last year's confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh added the fifth conservative vote the court needed to overturn Roe.

SB149 has 37 other Republican senators and representatives listed as co-sponsors.

-- John Moritz

Proposal advances for vets task force

Legislation creating the Arkansas Legislative Task Force on Veterans Affairs cleared the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday, sending it to the full Senate.

Senate Bill 4 by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, would create the 28-member task force to study Arkansas veterans' issues, including suicides.

The task force would have 20 representatives and eight senators.

The bill would allow the task force to establish an advisory board to help it accomplish its purposes. The task force would file a report with the governor and legislative leaders by Dec. 1, 2020. The task force would expire Dec. 31, 2020.

Garner said the task force would be similar to legislative task forces that studied the state's Medicaid program and the tax code. It would be able to travel across the state to hold town hall-style meetings.

-- Michael R. Wickline

Payment-to-cities measure advances

Legislation clarifying that municipalities may accept payments through debit or credit cards was endorsed by the Senate Committee on City, County and Local Affairs on Tuesday.

The sponsor of Senate Bill 98, Sen. John Cooper, R-Jonesboro, said municipalities "don't know whether they have the authority or not" to accept such payments under current law.

Cooper's bill would allow municipalities to enter into contracts with credit card companies. It also would allow the municipality to assess a transaction fee on payments made with a card.

Arkansas Municipal League Executive Director Mark Hayes said his organization supports the bill and that the cost of fees would be subject to current regulations in the credit card industry.

No one spoke against the bill, which was unanimously forwarded to the full Senate.

-- John Moritz

House backs bill on veterinary care

The House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill that would expand the scope of practice of certain veterinary assistants.

House Bill 1124 by Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, would allow veterinary technicians and technologists to care for animals away from the physical presence of a veterinarian.

Vaught has billed the legislation as an attempt to address the shortage of large-animal veterinarians in Arkansas.

"It won't happen very often, but everybody came to the table and agreed," Vaught said Tuesday on the House floor, adding that veterinarian and veterinary tech groups both supported the bill.

Under the legislation, veterinary technicians and technologists would be allowed to provide limited treatment to animals under the remote direction from a veterinarian, who must be "readily available."

A "veterinary technician specialist," under HB 1124, must complete education, training and testing through the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America.

The bill next moves to the state Senate.

-- Hunter Field

Senate approves House expense bill

The Senate on Tuesday approved a $1.975 million appropriation for the House to pay expenses of representatives, employee salaries, supplies and equipment in fiscal 2019, which ends June 30.

The Senate voted 35-0 to send House Bill 1001 by the House Management Committee to Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

HB1001 appropriates to the House from the constitutional officers fund $1.606 million for maintenance, operations and expenses; $311,500 for salaries; and $57,000 for personal services matching costs.

-- Michael R. Wickline

House advances rules for podiatry

By a 97-0 vote Tuesday, the House advanced a bill that would require the state Board of Podiatric Medicine to adopt rules limiting the amount of Schedule II narcotics that may be dispensed by podiatrists.

State Rep. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith, also a pharmacist, described House Bill 1124 as clean-up legislation to Act 820 of 2017, which required prescribers to check the state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program when prescribing certain opioids and benzodiazepine medication.

"In 2017, podiatrists, for whatever reason, were left off," Boyd said. "This just rectifies that."

No one spoke against the bill, which moves on to the Senate.

-- John Moritz

Senate backs axing bill-filing deadline

The Arkansas Senate on Tuesday approved joint House and Senate rules that would axe the filing deadline for regular bills on the 55th day of the regular session.

The Senate voted to send Senate Concurrent Resolution 1 by Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, to the House.

Maloch said he hopes axing the deadline will eliminate the need for "shell bills," which lack details, and allow the more efficient use of legislative staff. Lawmakers should understand that if they file a bill in the last week of March when they are aiming to end the session April 1, they run the risk of their bill not clearing the Legislature, he said.

SCR1 would keep intact the filing deadline for appropriations bills on the 50th day of the regular session. A two-thirds vote of the House and Senate would be required to introduce an appropriation after that deadline.

SCR1 also would keep the filing deadline on the 15th day of the session for any legislation on public retirement plans or on licensing health care providers. A three-fourths vote of both chambers is required to introduce these types of bills past deadline.

-- Michael R. Wickline


Democrat-Gazette file photo

Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, is shown in this file photo.


AP file photo

Sen. John Cooper, R-Jonesboro, is shown in this 2015 file photo.


Democrat-Gazette file photo

Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, is shown in this file photo.

A Section on 01/23/2019

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