Capitol Access by Jacob Kauffman

Stopping the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has been a centerpiece of Republican campaigning and an invigorating force for the Republican Party in Arkansas. The electorate seemingly validated this agenda by voting in Republican majorities in both the House and Senate. As a result, the fate of an important component of what has become colloquially known as Obamacare has largely rested in the hands of Republican legislators. Yesterday, the private option was passed 28-7.

The component of federal healthcare reform in question is the expansion of Medicaid to an additional 250,000 Arkansans. Arkansas legislators, rejecting the expansion of a federally run program, crafted a unique response, known as the private option. Essentially, those making up to 138% of the poverty level will be provided with private health insurance plans in place of Medicaid. In many respects this mirrors the Massachusetts health care law signed by Mitt Romney in 2006. The Republicans that crafted the Arkansas version of low-income insurance expansion argue they have saved Arkansas from the worst excesses and flaws of a bad federal law. Not all of their colleagues agree.

Eminent Domain

Legislation seeking to add federal protections to property owners and tenants faced with eminent domain failed to garner a majority of the 35 member Senate with a 15-13 vote this Thursday. SB 787 would result in higher compensation rates for property, travel, and relocation costs. The bill also extends compensation rights to tenants in Arkansas.

On Monday the Arkansas Senate voted up two pieces of legislation regulating unemployment insurance. Senator Jeremy Hutchinson (R) sponsored SB 38 which requires two random drug screenings of a sample population of recipients of unemployment benefits at the first and thirteenth week of payments. SB 875, sponsored by Bart Hester (R), lowered the average weekly wage received by those on unemployment by one hundred dollars.

Senator Hutchinson, of Benton, contended that the randomized nature of the drug screening will be a cost-efficient means of deterrence. Hutchinson estimated the legislation would cost the state $30,000 a year. On the floor he closed for his bill by stating, “If you can’t pass a drug test, then you aren’t actively seeking employment.”

The Democratic opposition remained silent on SB 38 but was prepared to make themselves heard two bills later when they picked up SB 875.

Yesterday, Senator Joyce Elliott (D) of Little Rock led an hour long hearing on the floor concerning legislation to allow undocumented immigrants, who have attended 3 years of high school in the state or obtained a G.E.D. in Arkansas, to pay in-state tuition rates for postsecondary education. Advocates testified for the Senate to invest in children who were brought to Arkansas and have succeeded in the school system. Republican legislators expressed concern that allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates would reward crime or tax the education system.

This hearing, a Committee of the Whole, effectively turns a regular floor session into a committee hearing replete with testimony from activists, business leaders, and educators. This maneuver results in a prolonged discussion on a pending piece of legislation. In effect, Elliott got a chance to showcase SB 915 and make her case with the help of some powerful testimony.

If Elliott sought to persuade Republican legislators, she may have been foiled by their conspicuous absence. Less than half of the Republican Senators were in the chamber throughout the duration of the testimony, while nearly every Democrat was seated.

Last week, the House was witness to a multitude of displays of emotion and conviction regarding the Defense of Marriage Act. Today, the Senate picked up SR 29, which mirrors the House resolution’s language. The atmosphere in the Senate was noticeably different. The floor debate in the Senate, unlike the House, did not serve as a stage for grandstanding on the issue.

Senator Jason Rapert (R) of Conway sponsored the resolution defining marriage as the, “union between one man and one woman.” Throughout this year’s session Rapert has garnered a reputation as an outspoken leader for conservative Arkansans. His fiery rhetoric on religion and abortion has thrust him into national headlines.

But today, when given the chance to be the face of traditional marriage, Rapert chose a different route.

Legislation regulating canvassers working on ballot initiatives is making its way through the legislature this week. Advocates of the bill argue that steps need to be taken to ensure the integrity of the petition process. Opponents contend the legislation is designed to stifle the capacity of those seeking to put initiatives on the ballot.

The language of SB 821, sponsored by Keith Ingram (D), specifically calls into question the efforts of ballot initiative campaigns from the 2012 election cycle,

Right and Left Tackle Unemployment Fraud

Yesterday was a long day over at the Capitol. Both chambers abandoned most of their schedules and adjourned early to take a walk across the Capitol grounds to listen to several hours of committee arguments regarding the Big River Steel Mill.

But the Senate did manage to squeeze in a little work.


Governor Beebe signed SB 331, a bill creating a one year moratorium on registering as a lobbyist for constitutional officers, agency heads, judges, and various commissioners into law today. The bill did not generate a single nay vote in the Senate or House.

The bill’s author, Republican Senator David Sanders of Little Rock, noted this legislation also restricts employment with a company if a state official or employee had “direct impact over a particular entity” or was in a position of picking a “winner or loser.” 

Senator Joyce Elliott
Nathan Vandiver

The drive to require photo identification at polling sites is well on its way to becoming law. The debate has been marked by concerns over voter suppression and the integrity of the electoral process. Tensions have been high throughout its course in the legislature. This Tuesday’s floor session was no exception.

Stepping Toward School Prayer

Earlier today the House Education Committee passed through legislation that mandates a “one (1) minute period of silence at the beginning of each school day.” The bill suggests students use this time to, “reflect,” “pray,” or “engage in silent activities.”