2007 Session

Before providing a brief summary of the session, I should make some acknowledgements. First, I must express gratitude for God. He blessed many of our efforts; and, for that, we are indeed thankful. Second, I must also thank so very many of youreceiving this report. Without your prayers, your financial support, and your participation, we could have achieved very little. We are grateful for the pastors and church members who helped us.
Arkansans are fortunate to have some outstanding people serving as elected officials. If your senator and representative are among those, please take the time to let them know how much you appreciate them and the valuable service they provide.
Lastly, we here at the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council have had the good fortune to work with and alongside some very fine groups, such as Families First Foundation and others. We worked at different levels on the various issues, but always as an effective team. I appreciate all of those groups.
The following is a list of the major legislative matters we dealt with and the results of our efforts. This is not a complete list of all the issues on which we worked, it only covers those we considered to be key ones.
The issues in this first group are those we had major responsibility for and to which we assigned top priority.
STATE LOTTERY House Joint Resolution 1005 (HJR1005), the initiative promoted most heavily by the Lieutenant Governor, called for the legislature to propose a constitutional amendment to the voters to establish a state lottery. We have defeated similar measures in previous legislative sessions, and fortunately this one was no exception. From the time HJR1005 was filed until the session ended, we worked intensely and constantly to block it.
The lottery proposal just never was able to gain traction. We attribute that to three things: our ability to consistently beat lottery proposals in earlier sessions, the contacts so many of you made to your senators and representatives, asking them to oppose the lottery, and the objective, empirical, and devastating factual case we made that clearly demonstrated how poor an economic tool a state lottery is and how it turns a state into an economic predator of its weakest citizens.
LOCAL OPTION ELECTIONS The objective of House Bill 2242 (HB2242) was to make it much easier to call local option elections to determine the dry/wet status of a county. We defeated HB2242 in the House Rules Committee. Had the bill become law, it would have reduced the percentage of a county’s registered voters’ signatures on petitions from 38% to 15% required to call a local option election. Furthermore, it would have allowed a county’s quorum court to call an election, usurping the peoples’ exclusive right to do that as set out in the current law. Passage of HB2242 could have led to the conversion of most of this state’s 42 dry counties to wet ones within 5 years. As it stands now, most, if not all, of those counties will remain dry.
SEXUALLY-ORIENTED BUSINESSES House Bill 1536 (HB1536), sponsored by Representative George Overbey and others, now Act 387, is a good first step toward dealing with obscenity-related businesses like adult book stores. This new law requires that sexually-oriented businesses not be located within 1000 feet of a child care facility, park, church, playground, public library, recreational area, residence, school, or other locations frequented by children. Licensing and zoning ordinances and the enforcement of criminal statutes dealing with obscenity-related offenses are still the most effective ways to deal with those obnoxious businesses, but Act 387 is a firm step in the right direction.
BLINDER RACKS Senate Bill 182 (SB182), sponsored by Senator Denny Altes, is now Act 579. This good, common sense law requires that merchants have so-called “blinder racks” that cover the lower two-thirds of the covers of pornographic magazines they display in their establishments. The obvious and good result is that young people, children, and others aren’t exposed to the nudity that is depicted on the front covers of those kinds of publications.
CHARITABLE BINGO As you know, the states’ voters approved a constitutional amendment establishing charitable bingo in a landslide vote in the November 2006 general election. We campaigned against passage of the amendment, but the voters chose to go the other way. After the amendment was approved, we knew that we would have to go into the legislature, seeking to get a law that would impose the tightest and most narrow restrictions possible on how charitable bingo was to be conducted. Our objectives were to ensure that charitable bingo was really charitable and to prohibit the establishment of large, commercial bingo operations. House Bill 1426, sponsored by Representative Shirley Walters, now Act 388, will achieve those results if it is strictly and consistently enforced.
SHIPMENT OF WINE FROM OUT OF STATE Senate Bill 592 (SB592) was a measure we helped defeat. If SB592 had become law, it would have permitted the shipment of wine into Arkansas from outside the state. The problems with this measure were obvious. First, the integrity of dry counties would have been severely damaged. Second, there would have been little or no opportunity to prevent underage persons from ordering and receiving wine they could order from out of state over the phone or internet.
PRIVATE CLUBS House Bill 2432 (HB2432) was a bill we supported, but which failed to win passage. It would have amended the law governing the ability of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to grant private club permits. Had it become law, HB2432 would have made it more difficult for restaurants in dry counties to receive private club status.
These issues were ones with which we assisted other groups.
QUALIFICATIONS OF FOSTER AND ADOPTIVE PARENTSSenate Bill 959 was intended to prohibit homosexuals and unmarried cohabitating couples from serving as foster or adoptive parents. This issue quickly became the most contentious and emotional one in this session. Unfortunately, the issue was improperly framed as one about homosexual rights rather than the legitimate issue of what’s in the best interests of children at risk. In the prevailing and counterfeit climate of “political correctness,” the concern for vulnerable children was subverted and the bill failed.
HATE CRIMES Senate Bill 264 (SB264) was another in a long line of proposed hate crimes legislation we have consistently opposed and that have failed to be enacted into law. SB264 was an improvement over hate crimes bills in previous legislative sessions, but still was not deemed worthy to be passed. To its credit, SB264 did not list specific groups to be granted special status. However, legislators still found it to be too ambiguous and vague to be made a part of our criminal statutory law.
These included Enhanced Penalties for Certain Obscenity Offenses (Act 346), Streamline Adoptions (HB1485 and HB 2237), and Child Maltreatment (Act 586).
There were some issues notable by their absence in this legislative session. I should mention these issues because our successful efforts in previous sessions against these measures are the likely reason these proposals didn’t surface this time. These measures that we’ve consistently prevailed against are:
Casino Gambling Amendments – Due in large part to our opposition, the legislature has steadfastly refused over the years to refer proposed constitutional amendments for casino gambling to the voters. This year, such a measure wasn’t even filed.
Mardi Gras Bill – This kind of proposal seeks to allow city councils in towns in wet counties to designate areas of their city where alcoholic drinks can be carried openly outside and not confined to indoors in bars and restaurants. This was another initiative that we’ve previously defeated and that was not even filed this session.
Medical Marijuana – We were surprised not to see a bill filed to allow the cultivation, marketing, and smoking of marijuana, for the ostensible benefit of patients suffering with certain debilitating medical conditions. The real purpose of these measures is to mainstream the use of marijuana, leading eventually to the unrestricted legalization of marijuana for any use, recreational or otherwise. This one we’ve beaten before and more than once.
Local Option Election for Mixed Drinks in Restaurants – A typical bill for this purpose usually calls for a limited local option election to allow restaurants to sell mixed drinks, but not to permit liquor stores and retail sales of beer and wine in grocery and convenience stores. Our objections to these kinds of measures always centers on the “slippery slope” argument. Once a local option election is called and mixed drinks are allowed, it is only a small, incremental step to go full-blown wet in a subsequent local option election. So far, we’ve been able to head off these initiatives.