Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lindsley Smith reports from the Arkansas legislature January 31, 2009

Legislative Update‏
Sent: Sat 1/31/09 11:10 PM
Date: January 30, 2009

LITTLE ROCK – The third week of the 87th General Assembly’s regular session in Little Rock saw the passage in the House of an animal-cruelty bill and two bills that restrict the use of cell phones while driving.
The animal-cruelty bill is now in the hands of the Governor, soon to be signed into law. Senate Bill 77 allows felony charges to be filed for aggravated cruelty against dogs, cats and horses. Both chambers approved the bill by large margins. With passage of the law in Arkansas, only three states say animal cruelty is only a misdemeanor, with no felony charges possible.
The measure makes the cruelty offense punishable by a maximum penalty of six years in prison and a $10,000 fine. It adds five years to any conviction of torturing an animal in the presence of a child. Current law imposes up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Exemptions are for standard animal-husbandry and agriculture practices. The bill also states that officials with animal rescue groups do not have arrest powers in animal-cruelty cases. It also bans all forms of animal fighting and requires psychiatric counseling for those convicted of the felony charge. Rep. Pam Adcock of Little Rock sponsored the bill in the House.
There have been several incidents the last couple of years of horses being purposely maimed, of dogs being beheaded and cats being skinned alive. SB 77 provides prosecutors and law enforcement officers with a tool to go after these horrible cases. Its passage received loud ovations in both chambers upon passage.

The cell-phone bills are HB 1119, by Rep. Allen Kerr of Little Rock, and HB 1013, by Rep. Ray Kidd of Jonesboro.
HB 1119 prohibits drivers under age 18 from using a cell phone at all and requires drivers ages 18 to 20 use a hands-free device.
HB 1013 prohibits text-messaging while driving for drivers of all ages. Text-messaging while driving is a primary offense, meaning a police officer who witnesses such an incident can make an immediate traffic stop. The fine is $100. The bill is called “Paul’s Law,” in memory of a Jonesboro man who was killed last year in a head-on collision with a car driven by a man who admitted that he was distracted while send a text message. Both bills go to the Senate.

In other action, the House:
Approved HB 1005, by Rep. Bill Abernathy of Mena, allowing local school districts to retain a percentage of miscellaneous funds rather than it all going to the state. That bill goes to the Senate.
Approved HB 1085 by Rep. Lindsley Smith of Fayetteville, to give a city council the power to fill a vacancy on the council without the possibility of veto by the mayor. That bill goes to the Senate.
House Bill 1040, by Rep. Dawn Creekmore of East End, creates a separate criminal offense for smothering or strangulation, or the attempt to smother or strangle. According to testimony by police on the bill, evidence of such action isn’t always visible to an officer responding to a domestic-violence call, possibly resulting in a lesser charge being filed. The bill makes such battery a felony offense, rather than the misdemeanor it is now. The bill goes to the Senate.
House Bill 1182, by Rep. Darren Williams of Little Rock, to require counties to reimburse their personnel for tips of up to 15 percent. County employees across the state currently aren’t reimbursed while state employees are.
Two other House bills have received approval in both chambers and are now in the governor’s hands. They are HB 1036, by Rep. Keith Ingram of West Memphis, to extend alcohol sales in West Memphis restaurants to seven days a week and HB 1022, by Rep. Tracy Pennartz of Forth Smith, to create a $500,000 loan program for nursing students and faculty through the state Board of Nursing fund balances. House Bill 1086, by Rep. Lindsley Smith to honor Thomas Paine for his courageous and important contribution to the independence of our nation that he called "The United States of America" failed passage in the Senate State Agencies Committee on Wednesday when no Senator on the committee made a second motion to Senator Steve Bryles' "do pass" motion.
Meanwhile, work continues behind the scenes on the governor’s healthcare package. A bill has been filed to raise taxes on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, generating $88 million a year – plus some $90 million in federal matching funds – for a variety of health programs. The package includes the creation of a statewide trauma system that would improve emergency rooms in hospitals across the state ($25 million), establish a satellite campus of UAMS in Northwest Arkansas ($3 million), and increase funding for 59 community health centers ($15 million), home-based health ($5 million), the ArKids First insurance program for children ($3.6 million) and a variety of cancer-screening programs.
Competing legislation calls for an increase in fines levied on convictions for driving while intoxicated, other certain driving violations and domestic violence. Only the trauma system would be funded under that bill. Both sides are still trying to gather support before bringing their bills to committee.

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