Summary of AFEC Action at the 2001 Arkansas General Assembly

The recent meeting of the legislature was probably the most successful in the history of this organization. Before I get to specifics, I want to hasten to put our success in proper perspective. First, God gets the credit for our victories. Without His providence, provisions, and protection, we would have accomplished very little, if anything.
Second, Arkansas churches, pastors, and countless Christians must get credit. You and many others gave us financial assistance, called your legislators, and encouraged others to participate, and it paid off in a number of successes.
Third, I want to acknowledge some wonderful organizations that we worked with in the legislature. Those groups are the American Family Association’s Arkansas affiliate, Arkansas Right to Life, Eagle Forum, Families First Foundation, Family Council, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. We didn’t work equally on all bills –some of us gave priority to different issues, but in the final analysis we came together to be an effective team. It’s a model we should stick with.
THE FOLLOWING IS A LIST OF SOME OF THE KEY LEGISLATION THAT WE WORKED ON (There were several other issues with which we were involved –space limitations don’t allow us to mention them here):
The Safe Haven Act — ACT 236 (House Bill 1070 sponsored by Representative Gene Jeffress of Louann) This law provides immunity from prosecution of a charge of endangering the welfare of a child for a parent of a newborn who leaves the child at a hospital or other public facility having emergency medical personnel on site. We would like to think that all parents are responsible and loving. However, we know all parents are not and, in that instance, the well-being of the child becomes of paramount importance. This law will save the lives of infants.
A Woman’s Right to Know Act — ACT 353 (House Bill 1074sponsored by Representative Jim Magnus of Little Rock) This law requires abortion providers to present certain information to women seeking abortions. The information must include medical risks and alternatives to abortion and it must be provided at least a day in advance of the abortion procedure. Similar laws in at least two dozen states have been effective in lowering abortion rates. Unborn babies will be saved in Arkansas as well.
The Act to Lower the DWI Blood Alcohol Content Threshold From .10 to .08 — ACT 561 (House Bill 1141 sponsored by Representative Sandra Rodgers of Hope) Passage of this law was our number one priority. We have labored for several sessions trying to get this law approved. It is a simple law and does just what the title says. It lowers the threshold blood alcohol content at which a motorist is considered intoxicated. The law has been enacted in twenty or so other states and is proven to be effective in saving lives, reducing accidents, and in dealing with the overall alcohol problem.
The Covenant Marriage Act — ACT 1486 (House Bill 2039sponsored by Representative Russ Hunt of Searcy) This law provides couples an alternative marriage license. The new alternative requires pre-marital counseling and establishes more restrictions on divorce. This option is strictly voluntary. The importance of this law is that it serves as a public policy statement; Arkansas is acknowledging the sanctity and gravity of marriage and is providing couples the means to identity their marriages in that way.
An Act to Permit the Medical Use of Marijuana (House Bill 1303sponsored by Representative Jim Lendall of Little Rock) — It was a real privilege to help defeat this bill. Ostensibly, the bill’s purpose was to allow persons with certain medical conditions to smoke marijuana to alleviate pain and other symptoms accompanying their diseases. The actual purpose of the bill was to loosen the laws regarding the production and smoking of marijuana. This bill died a quick and deserved death in committee.
There were six different gambling proposals filed in the legislature this year. We took each very seriously and were so pleased to play a major role in defeating all six. There were four constitutional amendments submitted for possible referral to the people at the next general election. Two of those were minor and two were very significant. House Joint Resolutions 1010 and 1016 would have permitted charitable raffles and charitable bingo, respectively. These were quickly rejected by the House committee.
Senate Joint Resolutions 7 and 15 were very different. SJR 7 would have repealed our constitutional prohibition against gambling and allowed the legislature to authorize any and all forms of gambling in any quantity. The Senate committee gave the proposal little serious consideration and refused to endorse it. SJR 15 came closest to passing out of the Senate. It would have established a state wide lottery to fund education. It fell only one vote short in committee. The lottery seems to have the most appeal of all gambling initiatives and is probably the one that should cause us the most concern.
Senate Bill 602 would have permitted the two race tracks in Arkansas to conduct wagering over telephone or internet. That is a radical departure from the way gambling on races is permitted in Arkansas now. The bill was difficult to defeat due to the lobbying power of Oaklawn Park. However, despite the disadvantage in lobbying clout, we were able to prevail and the vote in the Senate was four votes short of the number needed for passage. Expect the tracks to come back with this one.
Senate Bill 281 would essentially have legalized video poker in Arkansas. We fought very hard in the 1999 session to clean up the law concerning amusement machine devices to rid our state of video poker. If this bill had passed, we would be right back where we were in that session. Fortunately, we were able to beat this bill in committee.
In other alcohol related measures, we were instrumental in defeating measures to liberalize the requirements to call local option elections for going from dry to wet (House Bill 1637), to allow out of state phone and internet wine sales (House Bill 1673), and to require any grocery store or convenience store with a beer permit to sell wine (House Bill 2381).