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Arkansas lawmakers begin pre-filing bills ahead of coming legislative session

Regular session to take up abortion expenses, prison terms by Michael R. Wickline | November 21, 2022 at 6:52 a.m.
The state Capitol building in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

Arkansas state lawmakers filed 11 bills during the first four days of the period for lawmakers to file legislation in advance of the regular session that starts Jan. 9, 2023, including two that would create the "Truth in Sentencing and Parole Reform Act of 2023."

The other bills include a measure that would require employers who opt to cover abortion services or travel expenses related to abortions for employees to provide 16 weeks of paid maternity leave to employees who are residents of Arkansas; legislation that would require Arkansas Medicaid coverage for postpartum care for mothers for one year after giving birth; and a bill that would require disclosure of more information about a registered sex offender's home address and their employer's address to the public.

State Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Knoxville, late Friday afternoon filed the abortion bill as House Bill 1006.

He said Friday night that he wants to discourage employers from paying for women to get abortions out-of-state. Such actions circumvent Arkansas' state law banning abortions except to save the life of the mother in a medical emergency, he said. He said he also wants to see more paid maternity leave.

House Bill 1002 by State Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, and Senate Bill 2 by State Sen. Ben Gilmore, R-Crossett, would change Arkansas law concerning sentencing and parole. However, neither filing included the details that are expected to be determined later in the session and added through an amendment. Gilmore is the Senate sponsor of House Bill 1002 and Gazaway is the House sponsor of Senate Bill 2.

During their campaigns in the Nov. 8 general election, state lawmakers and other state elected officials often espoused their philosophical bent about various state policies. The early filing period marks the start of their attempts to put their ideas into practice in state government by offering the nuts and bolts of legislation that will be considered by the 94th Arkansas General Assembly.

On Friday, Gilmore said that "We will have more details in the coming days, but I look forward to working with our incoming governor and attorney general to help ensure the safety of all Arkansans by working to address our broken parole system and keep repeat violent offenders off our streets."

Asked whether SB2 and HB1003 were the first bills prefiled late Tuesday afternoon in order to get people's attention, Gilmore said, "Public safety is important to all Arkansans, and we filed this bill now to continue this important conversation."

Attorney General-elect Tim Griffin, who is the state's current lieutenant governor, said Friday in a written statement, "I will continue working with the governor-elect and legislators over the coming weeks to finalize the details of our proposed parole and prison reforms, but we are simultaneously continuing a public dialogue about the need to make bold changes to keep our communities safe."

And, Judd Deere, a spokesman for Governor-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said Friday that Sanders continues to engage state lawmakers on her priorities for the coming legislative session to ensure her plans to increase access to quality education, reduce violent crime and keep violent, repeat offenders behind bars, and reduce the size of government are enacted into law.

"Working together with legislators and other constitutional officers next year, the Governor-elect is confident about getting major pieces of her bold, conservative agenda to her desk for signature," Deere said in a written statement.

As part of her public safety plan unveiled in her campaign, Sanders proposed enacting what she described as smart, targeted truth-in-sentencing legislation aimed at ensuring violent repeat offenders are not allowed back into communities in Arkansas.

The proposed legislation would require an inmate who is out on parole and commits another crime to go back and serve the remainder of the original sentence and the new sentence consecutively, Sanders said during her successful campaign for governor.

During his campaign for attorney general, Griffin emphasized the need for violent offenders to serve more time in prison, reducing the number of early releases and revamping the parole system to fight rising crime across the state.

Sanders' public safety plan says the state "must be prepared to devote the necessary resources to increase prison capacity to allow for the retention of violent, repeat offenders and to reduce the backlog in our county jails." Griffin has said he would work with legislators to get a new prison facility built.

Separately, under his House Bill 1004, state Rep. David Ray, R-Maumelle, said the bill would require a complete address on the public sex offender website, and the current statute only requires the street name and block number.

"Arkansas is one of only four states (the others being Maine, Washington, and Vermont) that does not give a complete address for the sex offender," he said in a written statement. "The same information would be collected for the sex offender's employer."

"Unfortunately, Arkansas leads the nation in the number of child sex abuse cases per capita, and we must do something to change that," Ray said. "I have worked with local law enforcement on this bill to improve Arkansas's sex offender registry and help equip Arkansans with information that would help protect them from sex offenders."

Under House Bill 1003 by state Rep. Julie Mayberry, R-Hensley, income tax credits would be created for beginning farmers and owners of agricultural assets.

Under the bill, the secretary of the Department of Agriculture would be required to certify financial management programs that would qualify a beginning farmer for an income tax credit, establish by rule a procedure for certifying financial management programs and maintain a list of certified financial management programs on the website of the department.

The bill would cap the total amount of state income tax credits awarded under the measure at $10 million per calendar year and would be effective for tax years, starting on or after Jan. 1, 2024.

Mayberry could not be reached for comment by telephone about her bill on Thursday or Friday.

"We were part of drafting this proposed legislation in the last session and have had conversation with Rep. Mayberry in advance of her filing," said Steve Eddington, a spokesman for the Arkansas Farm Bureau.

"Our sense is any help that can be provided to new and beginning farmers is a benefit to the industry and to the state."

The other six bills that Pilkington filed late Friday afternoon include:

• House Bill 1005 that would repeal part of Act 568 of 2021 so the Small Town Economic Development Act that changed the exemptions to the licensing requirements for architects would not Fexpire on Dec. 31, 2023.

• House Bill 1007 that would authorize pharmacists to dispense HIV pre-exposure and post-exposure prophylaxis.

• House Bill 1008 that would modify the coverage of continuous glucose monitors in the Arkansas Medicaid program.

• House Bill 1009 that would authorize Arkansas Medicaid program to reimburse for nonemergency transportation from a Medicaid beneficiary's home to a healthcare facility. The reimbursement would be limited to $150 per calendar year for each Medicaid beneficiary.

• House Bill 1010 that would require the Arkansas Medicaid program to provide postpartum coverage for mothers for one year after giving birth. The current coverage is for 60 days, Pilkington said.

• House Bill 1011 that would require the Arkansas Medicaid program to reimburse for depression screening of a pregnant woman and require the Department of Human Services to apply for any federal waiver, Medicaid state plan amendments or other authority necessary to implement the bill.

Information for this article was contributed by Stephen Simpson of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


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