Caucus critical of food-stamp limits
Pointing to a densely populated, 5-square-mile area of central Little Rock where there are no supermarkets, members of the Legislature's Black Caucus on Monday said a proposed bill to restrict soda and candy purchases on food stamps would disproportionately affect black Arkansans who do not have ready access to healthier foods.
"It's pretty clear that this is intended to to deal with black people," said Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, speaking about House Bill 1743 by Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville.
Walker's District 34 includes much of the corridor along 12th Street and Interstate 630 in Little Rock to which members of the caucus were referring.
While Bentley did not address the caucus, Joe Thompson of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement did, saying that eliminating unhealthy foods from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would force vendors in so-called food deserts to sell healthier options.
Members of the caucus, including its chairman, Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, said they were skeptical that less-punitive measures could be taken to encourage SNAP recipients to purchase healthier foods.
Bentley ran a similar bill to restrict food-stamp purchases in 2017, but the bill failed.
-- John Moritz
Pregnant inmates' shackles targeted
The Arkansas House on Monday passed legislation that would prohibit jailers from shackling women while they are giving birth.
House Bill 1523, by Rep. Rebecca Petty, R-Rogers, passed by a vote of 96-0.
"Let's give our ladies dignity," Petty said when presenting the bill.
HB1523 includes exemptions for female prisoners who are deemed to be a "substantial flight risk," or who threaten the safety of their baby, staff or the public.
Petty said the Arkansas Department of Correction favors the bill. A spokesman for the agency could not be reached Monday to comment on existing policy.
-- John Moritz
'Dreamer' nurses get House's OK
The Arkansas House on Monday passed without dissent legislation to allow individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to obtain nursing licenses.
House Bill 1552 by Rep. Megan Godfrey, D-Springdale, permits the state Board of Nursing to issue nursing licenses to those in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.
That policy, commonly referred to as DACA, allows foreign-born individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children to remain in the country legally on a renewable, two-year basis while being eligible for work permits.
The state had allowed "Dreamers" -- named for the never-passed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act -- to obtain nursing licenses since the policy's creation in 2012, but it ceased doing so in 2017.
The DACA program has been in limbo since President Donald Trump's administration announced plans in 2017 to end the policy. That decision is being challenged in court.
Ten other states have enacted laws to allow DACA recipients to obtain occupational licenses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Godfrey, arguing for the bill from the House floor on Monday, pointed to the state's current shortage of nurses, adding that many "Dreamers" affected by the bill call Arkansas home.
"We should do all that we can to recruit and retain nurses here in Arkansas," she said. "DACA nurses in communities all across our state are dedicated, smart, resilient and will serve our state well."
-- Hunter Field
Petition endorsed on daylight saving
A day after the clocks shifted forward, a House committee passed a resolution that proposes petitioning Congress to allow states to permanently observe daylight saving time if surrounding states support the switch.
House Resolution 1034 by Rep. Sarah Capp, R-Ozark, directs the General Assembly to call upon the U.S. government to amend a law that prevents states from opting out of standard time if Arkansas' border states express similar interests.
Federal law allows states to forgo springing clocks forward an hour from the first Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November every year, but it precludes states from permanently adopting daylight saving time, which was first enacted during World War I to conserve energy.
Capp listed a host of health, environmental and social benefits associated with nixing the biannual time shift.
Last year, the Congressional Research Office found that 16 states have proposed legislation to adopt a permanent time variation.
Florida and California both passed laws last year to eliminate standard time in those states, but those wouldn't take effect until Congress amends the law to allow such a change. A proposal to do so has been introduced.
Arizona and Hawaii operate under standard time year-round.
Capp presented the legislation, which passed committee without dissent, on Monday, about six hours after President Donald Trump tweeted about the matter.
"Making Daylight Saving Time permanent is O.K. with me!" the president tweeted Monday morning.
-- Hunter Field
A Section on 03/12/2019