STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS: Governor sits out signing limits bill | Panel favors rein on marijuana ads | Special-elections bill fails 2nd time

Editor’s note: The Arkansas Legislature will not meet for the rest of the week because of icy weather forecast for much of the state. The regular legislation session is scheduled to resume Monday.

Governor sits out signing limits bill

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday that he would allow legislation limiting his office’s ability to enforce health and occupancy requirements on religious institutions during an emergency to become law without his signature.

The legislation, House Bill 1211, passed in both chambers of the Legislature with large majorities.

The bill would prohibit the governor from limiting religious services in a way that is not “applicable to all organizations and businesses.”

In a letter delivered to House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, on Wednesday, Hutchinson defended his office’s actions in response to the covid-19 pandemic.

Last year, Hutchinson’s Department of Health issued guidelines requiring mask wearing and social distancing at worship services.

[RELATED: See complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature at]

“Great care has been taken by the executive branch to avoid infringing on these sacred rights,” Hutchinson said. “Churches and religious institutions are specifically excluded from any directives that could be interpreted as applicable to them.”

The governor also criticized uncodified language in the bill stating that the need for such action was because of his office’s action, calling the accusation “inaccurate.”

Had the governor vetoed the legislation, it could have been overridden by a simple majority of each chamber.

— John Moritz

Panel favors rein on marijuana ads

A bill to prohibit the use of symbols associated with medicine or pharmacy in advertising for medical marijuana businesses zipped through a House committee Wednesday.

House Bill 1353, by Rep. Delia Haak, R-Gentry, seeks to prohibit the use of such symbols, including a green cross or caduceus, from being used to advertise dispensaries or cultivation facilities.

The bill passed in the House Select Committee on Rules without discussion or opposition, sending it to the House floor for further consideration.

— Rachel Herzog

Special-elections bill fails 2nd time

House lawmakers Wednesday voted for the second time this session to reject legislation limiting most local elections to specific dates in the spring and fall.

House Bill 1368, by state Rep. David Ray, R-North Little Rock, received only 39 votes when it was first run on the House floor earlier this month.

On Wednesday, Ray successfully moved for the House to reconsider the bill, but it failed on a 46-46 vote.

Ray said HB1368 was aimed at increasing turnout in local elections — such as special elections and bond issues — by having them held on a regular schedule.

The bill states that except in the cases of an emergency or to fill a vacancy, local elections could be held only during regular primary and general election dates in election years, and during specific dates in May or November in off-election years.

Opponents argued that the bill would strip away local control to determine when is the best time to hold an election.

— John Moritz

Massage therapist bill OK’d in House

The House voted to send legislation to the governor Thursday to allow the state to pull the license of a massage therapist after a prostitution offense.

Senate Bill 87, by state Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, would add prostitution to the list of offenses that can cause therapists to lose their licenses. State law prohibits anyone convicted of prostitution from receiving a license for massage therapy.

The bill was run in the House by state Rep. Jack Ladyman, R-Jonesboro.

The bill passed in the House by a vote of 90-1, sending it to Gov. Asa Hutchinson for his potential signature.

— John Moritz

Continued on following page

UAMS milk bank bill clears House

The House voted unanimously Wednesday on legislation to create the state’s first human breast milk bank at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

House Bill 1067, by state Rep. Aaron P ilkington, R-Clarksville, established the breast milk bank under the authority of UAMS.

Pilkington previously sponsored legislation in 2019 to create rules for the establishment of human breast milk banks in Arkansas. Since then, Pilkington said no such banks have been established.

A representative of UAMS told a committee earlier this week that the hospital currently pays to import human breast milk from banks in Michigan and Texas.

— John Moritz

Alcohol-deliver bill sent to Hutchinson

A bill to allow liquor stores, craft breweries and microbreweries to delivery alcohol to Arkansans over age 21 who live in wet counties will be sent to the governor.

Under an emergency order from Gov. Asa Hutchinson, those businesses have been allowed to deliver to customers for the past nine months because of the covid-19 pandemic.

Rep. Karilyn Brown , R-Sherwood, said Senate Bill 32 will be a good bill for small businesses, since it codifies the new business model that they have created during the pandemic.

Brown added that vendors would check a customer’s age twice, once when the order is made and again when the product is delivered.

SB32 passed 67-21 Wednesday. The House initially voted down the bill 48-23 Monday, but Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Hermitage, moved for the vote to be expunged, giving Brown another chance to take it before the chamber.

— Rachel Herzog

Upcoming Events