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STATE CAPITOL NEWS IN BRIEF: Bill favored to bar abortion providers | Public-inhalation pot bill advances | Campaign-cash use on child care OK'd

by John Moritz, Michael R. Wickline, Rachel Herzog | April 7, 2021 at 4:44 a.m.

Bill favored to bar abortion providers

A bill that would prohibit public schools from entering into transactions with abortion providers was recommended to the Arkansas House by a committee's divided voice vote Tuesday.

Sponsor Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, was joined in presenting House Bill 1592, dubbed the "Arkansas Student Protection Act," by Jerry Cox, executive director of the Arkansas Family Council.

Cox said an open-records request by the conservative education and research group indicated that the Pulaski County Special School District had had Planned Parenthood give instruction on sex education, puberty and pregnancy, and that Planned Parenthood had asked for the number of pregnant students.

However, a district spokeswoman said later Tuesday that the district "does not currently, nor has it previously had any partnerships with Planned Parenthood."

"I think that if your No. One aim is to be an abortion provider, you don't check that agenda at the door when you come in and you talk to students about other elements," Cox told the House Education Committee.

Committee member Rep. Fred Love, D-Little Rock, said it would be more harmful to students to take away access to sex education and information about sexually transmitted diseases.

"I don't think when we target organizations, I don't think that's a good thing," Love said. "There's a lot more that Planned Parenthood offers."

In a written statement Tuesday, Gloria Pedro, a regional organizer for Planned Parenthood Great Plains in Arkansas and Oklahoma, said HB1592 "is simply another effort to punish Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights organizations that support a person's right to choose abortion."

"Planned Parenthood Great Plains doesn't focus on how many pregnant students may or may not be in the class, instead it focuses on providing vital, accurate information," Pedro said.

-- Rachel Herzog

Public-inhalation pot bill advances

The House Judiciary Committee supported legislation Tuesday to criminalize the public inhalation of medical marijuana, after the bill's sponsor removed a more controversial provision on public marijuana intoxication.

The amended version of House Bill 1525, by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, would criminalize smoking medical marijuana in places where public inhalation is prohibited under the 2016 constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana. The bill would also prohibit the transportation of more than 5 ounces of the drug, except by a licensed cultivator or dispensary.

A violation would be a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a $500 fine.

An earlier version of the bill proposed similar penalties for public intoxication from medical marijuana, but faced push-back from lawmakers who argued that there is no easy and widespread way to administer a field test for marijuana intoxication like there is for alcohol. Lundstrum amended the bill to remove that provision.

-- John Moritz

Campaign-cash use on child care OK'd

The House voted Tuesday to allow candidates to use campaign funds to pay for child care expenses caused by the campaign.

House Bill 1728, by Rep. Megan Godfrey, D-Springdale, would codify a 2018 ruling by the Arkansas Ethics Commission that allowed Gayatri Agnew, a candidate for the House of Representatives from Bentonville, to use campaign funds for the care of her two children.

Despite the commission ruling, the measure failed during its first floor vote last month after several members raised concerns that Godfrey's bill would allow sitting officeholders to dip into campaign funds to pay for child care expenses during their time in office.

Godfrey amended the bill to ease some of those concerns. HB1728 passed in the House 70-19 Tuesday and now heads to the Senate.

-- John Moritz

Guns-in-parks bill heads to governor

The House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to allow Arkansans with concealed carry licenses to take guns into municipal parks.

Senate Bill 306, by Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, would allow concealed weapons in any municipal park, except for areas of those parks where athletic games or practices are being held.

The House sponsor, Rep. Joshua Bryant, R-Rogers, said the law already allows concealed carry license holders to carry weapons in national and state parks.

The House voted 80-9 for the bill, sending it to Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

-- John Moritz

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