2013 Arkansas General Assembly 89th Regular Session: Wrap-up

Larry Page, Director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council

3100 w193 h175God blessed our work in many respects, and we are most grateful for that. We are also thankful for all of you who have and continue to support us with your prayers, financial gifts, and participation – we understand that we are most fortunate and never take that for granted.
It was a pleasure to work with some other good groups on various issues. In the midst of all that goes on during a legislative session, it’s encouraging to know that the Judeo-Christian principles are present and promoted in the halls of government where laws are created.
The following is not an exhaustive list, but it does include some of the more noteworthy issues that were dealt with during this legislative session.
LIFE ISSUES: Act 72, formerly House Bill 1100 and called the Opt-out Bill, prohibits policies issued by the state’s health insurance exchanges established pursuant to the federal health care bill from offering coverage for abortions except through separate riders. This provision keeps faith with the Unborn Child Amendment to the state’s constitution, which prohibits the expenditure of public funds to provide abortions.
Act 171, filed as House Bill 1037, will operate to block abortions from the point at which the unborn child experiences pain. That is at 20 weeks of gestational age. This new law provides exceptions to the prohibition. Those are abortions in the cases of rape, incest, where the life of the mother is at stake or in where the woman faces a serious physical impairment of a major bodily function.
Act 301, previously Senate Bill 134 and known as the Heartbeat Bill, prohibits abortions at an even earlier time in a pregnancy than will Act 171 described above. Act 301 will ban abortions at a point at which a fetal heartbeat can be detected by use of an abdominal ultrasound. That point is generally at 10 to 12 weeks of gestational age. Act 301 provides the same exceptions set out above in the description of Act 171.
Senate Bill 818 passed the Senate, but failed to get a do-pass recommendation from the House Public Health Committee. Had it become law, Senate Bill 818 would have blocked funding of Planned Parenthood (and other organizations that perform abortions or make abortion referrals) with public funds. Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in the USA.
Senate Bill 1157 is another abortion-related bill that did not get favorable treatment in the legislature. As law, Senate Bill 1157 would have strengthened the law to ensure that women assenting to abortion were fully informed and knowingly consenting to the procedure.
ALCOHOL: Several bad alcohol bills were filed or proposed in this session. Fortunately, we were able to block all but one – and the one that did pass is limited in its application and does little harm.
Senate Bill 1073 was by far the worst of those bad proposals. Under current law, the only way that any retail sales (alcohol sold for off-premises consumption) in a county can legally be conducted is if a county’s voters have made the county wet in a local option election. Senate Bill 1073 would have savaged the local option election law by allowing individual towns or cities in dry counties to go wet in local option elections. This bill, had it become law, would have thrown the state’s dry counties into a state of chaos. Thankfully, we were able to derail this poor piece of proposed public policy.
House Bill 1108 was another bad bill that legislators rejected. As law, this bill would have allowed a city council or quorum court to call an election in a wet county to legalize the retail sale of alcohol on Sundays. Currently, the law requires that such an election can only be called by an initiative process in which at least 15% of the registered voters sign petitions requesting the election.
There was another proposal that we blocked even before it got to the bill stage. Had it become law, it would have permitted the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to establish bars in wet counties. Under current law, the ABC Board can approve the serving of mixed drinks in wet counties in restaurants, hotels, and private clubs. The end result would have simply been the establishment of numerous bars in Arkansas’ wet counties.
Act 1008, formerly House Bill 2087, was the measure we were unsuccessful in opposing. It only applies to Benton County and only as a result of that county’s voters choosing the wet status in last November’s general election. Act 1008 permits a city council of any of the county’s towns to adopt an ordinance to call for a referendum election to determine whether mixed drinks could be served in restaurants and hotels in the town. Act 1008 amended the law that allowed such an election to be called only by the petition process. Even though it didn’t make a big change in the law and only apples to Benton County, we opposed it because it changed the results of an election and that’s never a good thing.
A proposal we endorsed and strongly supported would have vastly improved the law regarding private clubs. Had it become law, it would have amended the private club law to prohibit the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board from issuing private club permits to restaurants in dry counties. In exchange for that, towns in dry counties could conduct elections when 20% or more of the registered voters in the town signed petitions requesting the election. If voters approved the issue in the election, restaurants could petition the ABC Board for permits to serve mixed drinks. However, no retail sales of alcohol would be allowed. When we surveyed and polled the members of our grass roots network, they enthusiastically and nearly unanimously supported the concept. Unfortunately, we couldn’t gain enough traction to push the bill through; but we will give it another try next session.
CHURCH AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY RELATED ISSUES: Senate Bill 1119 was a good bill which cleared the Senate but failed to get out of the House Judiciary Committee. This bill as law would have provided additional and valuable protections of our religious liberties. It would have ensured that no unnecessary governmental burdens were placed on anyone who is seeking a reasonable and legitimate practice consistent with his or her sincerely held religious beliefs. It should be clear by now that there is an effort underway to silence believers and to restrict religious practice. Unfortunately, various agencies, bureaucrats, courts, and other public officials and entities too often seem to get caught up in all that and, either knowingly or unwittingly, participate in squelching religious liberties.
Act 67, previously Senate Bill 71, amends the concealed carry gun law. It allows churches to permit people or particular persons who possess concealed carry permits to carry firearms on church premises. If the church does not affirmatively adopt policy allowing the carrying of firearms on its property, then the general law that bars guns from churches applies. The law does not require, but neither does it deny, signage by the church that designates either that firearms are permitted or not.
PROTECTION FOR THOSE AT RISK: Acts 132 and 133, formerly Senate Bill 242 and House Bill 1203, respectively, are the Human Trafficking Acts. They are identical laws. These new laws will go much further in punishing those animals that enslave women and children and force them into sexual bondage and it will do much to protect those innocent victims of that horrendous practice.