Rally-goers express their opposition to Senate Bill 43 during an event that was held on the steps of State Capitol in Little Rock on Jan. 19, 2023. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)
The fourth week of the Arkansas General Assembly’s 2023 legislative session brought lots of ice and amendments.
Senate Bill 43, which targeted drag shows, has demanded the most attention of any legislation through the first month of the session, but by the time the House and Senate adjourned for the weekend, it had been so heavily amended that it was hardly recognizable from the bill the Senate approved last week.
Here are some of the highlights from Week 4:
1) SB43 drags on
Republican Sen. Gary Stubblefield’s Senate Bill 43 passed the Arkansas Senate as a bill that targeted drag shows.
Specifically, it sought to regulate drag performances with participants “exhibit[ing] a gender identity that is different from the performer’s gender assigned at birth” like strip clubs or porn shops.
Things started to change this week as the bill worked its way through the House.
First, an amendment removed language about gender identity in House committee on Wednesday. The following day, all language about drag was removed in another amendment.
Rep. Mary Bentley, the House sponsor, said Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ office helped draft the first amendment. Sanders has previously said she supports the bill.
We expect more movement on SB43 next week. It still must pass the full House and go back to the Senate now that it’s been amended.
2) Bathroom Bill
House Bill 1156, also by Bentley, passed the House in a party-line vote on Wednesday. It would restrict bathroom use in public schools based on students’ sex assigned at birth. The rule would apply to multiple-occupancy restrooms and locker rooms, as well as rooms for students on overnight trips.
Our Tess Vrbin has a nice write-up from a long committee hearing on the bill that summarizes well the support and opposition to the measure.
3) Other bills of note
A House committee approved House Bill 1196 on Wednesday that would require able-bodied adults to work or volunteer part-time to receive federal housing assistance.
Witnesses cautioned lawmakers that the bill couldn’t be implemented and would violate federal law.
The Senate passed Senate Bill 66, which would require pornography websites to verify users’ ages.
How, you ask? One possibility outlined is the bill is through digital drivers’ licenses. One problem: Arkansas doesn’t have those, but there’s a bill for that.
Here were some of the newly filed bills of note:
• Senate Joint Resolution 2 by Sen. John Payton (R-Wilburn) and House Joint Resolution 1003 by Rep. Fran Cavenaugh would create a recall petition process for state elected officials, including the governor, legislators and judges.
• House Joint Resolution 1002 by Rep. Stephen Meeks would give the General Assembly the authority to cut personal property taxes and require the Legislature to eliminate personal property tax entirely in Arkansas by 2050.
• House Bill 1320 by Rep. David Ray (R-Maumelle) would return the responsibility to review ballot initiative titles to the Arkansas attorney general.
4) What’s all this about amendments?
We’ve saved one notable bill because of the way it passed through Senate committee this week.
Senate Bill 71 by Rep. Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro) would end affirmative action for state and local government entities in Arkansas.
It passed the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee on a split voice vote. One problem: members of the public had no way to know what was in the bill until after the committee meeting. This occurred because Sullivan amended the bill and ran it in committee before the amendment had been made publicly available.
It was no small amendment either. It added seven pages to what started as a two-page bill.
The bill and amendment kerfuffle is explained in more detail here, but between SB71 and the amendments to the previously anti-drag bill, we thought it might be helpful to explain amendments.
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Bills are amended all the time, and it’s a normal part of the legislative process.
An amendment simply makes changes to a bill, and legislators often make changes after receiving input from other lawmakers, members of the public or stakeholders who would be impacted by the bill.
Two things have to occur for a bill to officially be amended. First, the amendment must be written and published. Second, the bill must be engrossed, or the new, amended version of the bill must be correctly entered into the record.
The vast majority of the time this process occurs before a committee votes on whether to recommend a bill to the full House or Senate for passage.
Occasionally, a bill will be amended in committee, like Sullivan’s affirmative action bill. However, amendments adopted in committee are usually minor.
Sullivan said he forged ahead because he didn’t feel the amendment would change anyone’s position on the bill.
“There’s nothing in the amendment that differs at all with the principles of the original bill and there’s nothing substantively new in the amendment. If you liked the original bill, you like the amendment, and vice versa,” he told me.
• In other news, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be in the national spotlight next week giving the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address.
• Former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock) was sentenced to almost four years in federal prison for bribery and tax fraud.
• Our thoughts are with Secretary of the Senate Ann Cornwell who is recovering from hip surgery after falling on the Senate floor on Tuesday.
What will next week bring? There will be more movement on those hot-button social issue bills, and we’re still waiting on the governor’s education package.
We’ll let you know. Same time next week.
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