Lawmakers in the 88th General Assembly wrapped up our first month of the legislative session after an active week full of discussion and debate on topics ranging from ethics reform, abortion funding to community safety and former President Ronald Reagan.
On Monday, we passed House Bill 1004, which would prohibit the state’s Public Defender Commission from paying for private attorneys hired by indigent defendants, and it would also set controls on how trial expenses for those defendants are paid. Under this bill, tax dollars cannot be spent to pay for any attorneys fees. The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.
The much-needed Ethics Reform bill for state lawmakers made its way through House and Senate committees this week with overwhelming support from both chambers. The bill requires a one-year “cooling off” period before ex-lawmakers can register as lobbyists. I believe reasonable restrictions and separations are necessary to protect the integrity of the Legislature.
The ethics proposal would also require lawmakers to be reimbursed for the most cost-efficient mode of travel for out of state conferences. In the past, there have been several instances of legislators abusing the system to make money. This bill will model our policy after the Department of Finance and Administration’s travel policy for every other state employee.
The Ethics Reform bill currently has 74 co-sponsors in the 98-member House. Both the House and Senate are expected to vote on the bill Monday.
On Tuesday, the House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs approved a measure that would authorize the state Contractors Licensing Board to sanction contractors who knowingly employ illegal immigrants.
Several bills to toughen laws on sex offenders were approved by the Arkansas House of Representatives this week. Tuesday the chamber passed House bill 1009, which would allow local law enforcement agencies to immediately notify the public when a sex offender from another state enters a community. We also passed House Bill 1243, which would establish a late fee for sex offenders who fail to register their address with law enforcement on time. Estimates show about 1,200 offenders are currently delinquent in registering.
Lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee approved House Bill 1278, which would require individuals subject to the lifetime sex offender registration to register electronic information such as email addresses, internet usernames and social media accounts. The bill now goes to the full House for consideration. I am proud to support all three measures as they aim to increase the safety and security of every community in Arkansas.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Jane English that would require improvement districts and protection districts to file annual financial reports was passed by the full House on Thursday.
We also passed House Resolution 1008 by Rep. Jon Woods, to honor the life and legacy of President Ronald Reagan. The measure declared February 6, 2011, “Ronald Reagan Day,” which would have been the former president’s 100th birthday. President Reagan’s belief in American exceptionalism, individual ingenuity, and a less intrusive government continues to influence generations of Americans and are principles I live by as I represent the people of House District 46.
A bill to ban public funding of abortions as proposed in the federal health care overhaul stalled in the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Thursday. Despite the fact Senator Cecile Bledsoe’s bill passed with bipartisan support in the Arkansas Senate, House Democrats added a hostile amendment that would make the bill conflict with the Arkansas Constitution. As a result, the bill was tabled. Putting partisan politics above Arkansas values is not in the best interests of our state. However, I remain hopeful this important piece of legislation will surface again later in the session.
What to watch for:
· Lt. Governor Mark Darr’s vision to create an online checkbook to track state spending is now a reality with Senate Bill 221, The Arkansas Financial Transparency Act. The bipartisan bill would create a free, publicly accessible website through which information on state expenditures will be published on a regular, ongoing basis. Taxpayers have a right to know how and where their money is being spent, and I fully intend to support this solid piece of legislation when it reaches the House.
· Debate on tax cut bills will begin this week with discussion on Governor Mike Beebe’s proposed grocery tax cut.
· When legislators kick-off our second month of the session, I remain committed to representing your values and your voice as we begin to tackle critical issues such as, prison reform, highway funding, tax cuts, and congressional redistricting. I also encourage you to visit www.arkansashouse.org where you can live stream committee meetings and proceedings happening on the House floor from anywhere in the state.
As your Representative, I am honored to serve you in the Arkansas House. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns you may have. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.