REPORT OF THE RESULTS OF THE ARKANSAS FAITH AND ETHICS COUNCIL’S ACTIVITIES IN THE 2011 SESSION OF THE ARKANSAS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
BY: LARRY PAGE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
On behalf of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council (AFEC), I am pleased to present this report of AFEC’s work in the 2011 session of the Arkansas General Assembly. As in previous sessions, we had some wins and some losses. Right from the start, we need to express gratitude for assistance from a number of sources.
First, we thank God for blessing our efforts. Next, we want to give thanks for the many of you who receive our eNotes and who took the time and put forth the effort to send emails and make phone calls to get messages to your legislators regarding the bills that we needed to be heard on.
Thirdly, I should acknowledge that we have many legislators who take their jobs seriously, know that they are God’s appointed servants, and act accordingly. If your legislators are in this group, please thank them.
Lastly, I want to acknowledge that there were other groups that worked alongside the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council on some issues important to all of us. I will begin by thanking my good friend Bill Wheeler and his Arkansas Families First Foundation for their invaluable efforts. Others who we worked with on various issues were Arkansas Right to Life, Eagle Forum, Family Council, and Arkansas Family Association.
I will be as brief as possible in recapping the session. I will discuss 22 measures – there were several more legislative matters we took an interest in – but the 22 highlighted below were the most important.
We had the greatest impact and recorded our most dramatic wins with measures involving the subject of alcoholic beverages. We had the major responsibility for the measures that fell within that subject matter. We did get help from other groups on House Bill 2135, but it and the other alcohol-related bills were handled primarily by us.
On those measures that fell within the pro-life and lottery/gambling areas, we were pleased to assist several of the other groups. Unfortunately, our collective efforts there did not pay off as handsomely as our work in the area of alcoholic beverages did. However, 2 good bills regarding the lottery and one good bill dealing with abortion did pass and became law.
ISSUES INVOLVING ALCOHOL
We have great news on the alcohol issues we worked – and 3 in particular were of major importance. Had any of these three bills passed, it would have set us back a good deal. I am pleased to report that we prevailed in all three, dealing blows to those who wanted to further “wet up” our state, make alcohol more available, and enrich themselves by selling alcohol to the detriment of the quality of life of our communities.
House Bill 2097 (HB2097): This bill would have taken the vote away from the citizens of wet counties regarding the serving of mixed drinks in restaurants, hotels, and motels. The bill was an insult to voters, it would have been a serious blow to local control, and was an attempted “power grab” by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division. This bill was passed in the House of Representatives after failing in an initial vote. It was, however, defeated in the Senate in 2 separate votes and the bill died there.
House Bill 2173 (HB2173): This bill would have required 8 years to elapse before a subsequent local option could be called. For example, voters in Clark and Boone Counties decided in the November 2010 general election to change their respective counties’ statuses from dry to wet. If citizens of those 2 counties or any of their subdivisions wanted to call local option elections for 2014 (the next election they could do so under current law), they would have had to wait until 2018 if HB2173 had become law. This was another bill to hinder local control, disenfranchise voters, and empower the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division. The bill was defeated in the House of Representatives, and no attempt was made to revive it.
House Bill 2135 (HB2135): We didn’t defeat this entire bill – we didn’t need to – we did get the section of the bill we found most objectionable stripped from the bill. That section would have allowed city councils in wet counties to designate sections of their respective cities “entertainment districts,” in which mixed drinks and opened cans of beer could legally be carried around outside. The myriad problems with underage drinking, intoxication, and a “wild west” atmosphere that such a district would create were easy to envision. We deemed that section of the bill “the Mardi Gras” section, because it would have made areas of our towns resemble Bourbon Street. The Senate deleted “the Mardi Gras” section of the bill, and the House accepted the change.
We were also concerned with House Bill 2206 (HB2206). It would have changed the ratio by which the number of off-premises retail liquor permits allowed in wet counties is calculated. Fortunately, the bill failed; had it passed, the number of those permits would have increased in several counties now and in the future.
House Bill 1282 (HB1282) and Senate Bill 811 (SB811) were bills we supported and were passed into law. HB1282, now Act 70, clarifies the law by making certain that an entity, whether an individual person, firm, or corporation, can hold no more than a single off-premises retail liquor permit. The obvious benefit will be that monopolies on the alcohol trade won’t be created. Those kinds of monopolies in other states operate in ways that increase the availability and consumption of alcohol and that exacerbates the problems alcohol causes among families and in communities.
Senate Bill 811, now Act 1152, makes changes in the “Minor in Possession of Alcohol” law. Those changes make it possible to include alcohol already ingested into the body of the minor as qualifying as alcohol in possession by the minor. Therefore, if the minor has already drank all the alcohol at his or her disposal, the charge of minor in possession of alcohol can still be successfully pressed if the presence of alcohol in the body of the minor can be substantiated.
House Bill 1798 (HB1798), House Bill 1799 (HB1799), and House Bill 1994 (HB1994) were measures we supported that failed to pass. HB1798 and HB1799 were designed to enhance the penalties imposed on those guilty of multiple DWI convictions. HB1994 would have created a state wide DWI court program. DWI courts in other states are proving very effective in treating alcoholics and reducing repeat DWI offenders.
ISSUES INVOLVING ABORTION
We worked alongside and assisted some other groups in the effort to pass some really good laws to further protect and defend the unborn. It was a very tough session for pro-life legislation.
In this context, we have to focus our harshest criticism on the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee of the House of Representatives. A majority of the members of that committee seemed determined to stymie many of the pro-life measures, and their efforts were successful. There were five pro-life bills that we helped with; sadly, only one, House Bill 1855 (HB1855), was passed and became law. HB1855, now Act 1176, requires any facility in Arkansas that performs 10 or more abortions in a month to be subject to inspection, oversight, and licensing by the state’s department of health.
House Bill 1872 (HB1872) and Senate Bill 113 (SB113) would have prevented public funding of abortion for any purpose other than to save the life of the mother in the new state health insurance exchanges mandated by the new federal health care law passed last year. That federal law specifically allowed states that objected to taxpayers’ money being used to fund abortions to opt out of that part of the apparatus established to provide health care coverage. Unfortunately, both bills were bottled up in the House health committee and died there.
House Bill 1887 (HB1887) and Senate Bill 843 (SB843) were bills that would have resulted in fewer later-term abortions in Arkansas. The first measure would have prohibited the procedure to abort a child having a gestational age of 20 weeks or more, the point at which the fetus can and does feel pain during an abortion. The other would have required an abortionist to inform a woman and get her written consent to terminate her pregnancy if the unborn child already had a detectable heartbeat discovered by using standard medical techniques for making such evaluations. Neither bill made it out of the House health committee.
ISSUES INVOLVING LOTTERY/GAMBLING
Out of 6 proposals regarding gambling and the state lottery that we supported, 2 became law. This is another area where we worked with and supported other groups’ efforts. This legislative session was as nearly unfruitful for good proposed lottery measures as it was for the pro-life bills.
House Bill 1907 (HB1907), now Act 1179, requires that all advertising for gambling activity must contain a toll-free helpline telephone number from which information regarding services for compulsive gambling disorders can be accessed.
House Bill 2111, now Act 1192, mandates that the Lottery Commission must publish a notice providing the exact location of all self-service lottery ticket vending machines.
Among the measures dealing with gambling and the state lottery that we supported and that did not pass were: House Joint Resolution 1005 (HJR1005), a proposed constitutional amendment, would have required that a minimum of 35% of the annual lottery revenue be used to fund college scholarships; Senate Bill 753 (SB753) would have limited the amount of money that the Lottery Commission could spend annually on advertising; Senate Bill 757 (SB757) would have provided funding from lottery proceeds to fund programs for prevention, education, and treatment of problem gambling and compulsive gambling disorders; and Senate Bill 867 (SB867) would have prohibited the use of self-service lottery ticket vending machines.
ISSUES INVOLVING PORNOGRAPHY/CHILD WELFARE
We supported 2 bills intended to better protect minors in the area of pornography and obscenity. Unfortunately, neither of the bills passed. We will try and bring these bills back in the next session of the legislature.
Senate Bill 327 (SB327) would have increased the penalties for exposing a child to portrayals of live or recorded sex acts. Pedophiles routinely show children pornography as a means of breaking down the child’s inhibitions and to try and convince the child that what the molester wants to do to the child is normal and healthy behavior.
Senate Bill 658 (SB658) was intended to include the use of the internet in the criminal offense of selling or loaning pornography to a minor. Our laws have to be kept current with innovations in technology. Unfortunately, this law will have to wait a while longer to be brought up to date with current technology.
As I conclude this eNotes, I want to reiterate one thing; and that is my profound gratitude for everyone in our grass roots network who got involved with the legislative process at some point in the 2011 legislative session. The contacts so many of you made to your legislators were significant. I heard that the emails and phone messages were quite numerous. You made a difference – at times, a huge difference – and for that, I am extremely thankful.