Monday, March 9, 2009

Lawmakers approve trauma system

Legislative Update‏
Sent: Mon 3/09/09 3:02 PM
Date: March 7, 2009

A bill establishing a statewide trauma system has received final approval from lawmakers at the same time they’ve approved several bills aimed at reducing traumatic injuries, especially those sustained in car crashes.
Senate Bill 315, which was presented in the House by Hot Springs Rep. Gene Shelby, an emergency room physician, establishes a trauma network in which several hospitals across the state will see upgrades in staffing and equipment so trauma victims can get the best care possible as quickly as possible. The system will be funded by the tax increase on cigarettes and tobacco previously approved by lawmakers and already signed into law by the governor. The system will cost about $25 million a year. The Department of Health would establish the trauma system with the help of a 20-member trauma advisory council. The council would assign different levels of trauma care to hospitals and distribute grants accordingly for improvements to their emergency rooms and to hire the necessary staff.. The bill goes to the governor.
While addressing the treatment of trauma, lawmakers also have passed laws in an effort to prevent, or at least reduce, traumatic injuries. Those bills include making not wearing a seatbelt enough reason for a traffic stop, prohibiting text-messaging while driving, and placing more restrictions on drivers under 18. That latter bill, SB 309, also presented in the House by Shelby as a part of the trauma system package to save lives, prohibits a person under 18 from driving between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., except when coming home from a school function, work or during an emergency, or when accompanied by a licensed driver 21 or older. It also prohibits a person under 18 from driving with more than one unrelated minor passenger in the vehicle unless a licensed driver who is 21 or older is in the front passenger seat. The bill goes back to the Senate for concurrence in a House amendment. Supporters of the bill say such a law will save the lives of a dozen or more teenagers a year and prevent injuries to many more, while opponents said it would be a hardship to youths and families in rural areas. Arkansas is sixth in the nation in the rate of car-wreck fatalities involving youths under 18.

Also during the session’s eighth week:
The House approved SB 444 to allow for the early release of certain inmates convicted of drug offenses that involve methamphetamine. I am pleased with this legislation, encouraged, co-sponsored, and worked on it, and thank Senator Luker for serving as the primary sponsor. A 2005 law reduced from 70 percent to 50 percent the length of time offenders sentenced after August 2005 must serve before they could earn time off for good behavior. SB 444 extends that 50-percent to all meth-related offenders regardless of sentence date. Methamphetamine is the only drug among several crimes (first-degree murder, kidnapping, aggravated assault, etc.) in which the offender must serve 70 percent of the sentence. About 600 prison beds will be freed up under the change in law. The bill goes to the governor.
The House approved HB1552, by Rep. Lindsley Smith of Fayetteville, for employers to provide unpaid break time and reasonable locations for expressing breast milk if to do so would not cause an undue hardship on the operations of the employer. A huge body of medical research indicates that nursing is the healthiest choice for babies and mothers. Increasing breastfeeding rates is a public health goal at the state and federal level. Arkansas currently has low rates, with 60% starting off nursing, but by 3 months the number of breastfeeding mothers in Arkansas is only 22%--a time frame when mothers go back to work. The bill goes to the Senate.
The House also approved HB1474 by Rep. Lindsley Smith. HB1474 establishes a means to address unfair discrimination in insurance acquisition of victims of domestic abuse. Beginning in 1994, legislatures began enacting legislation to stop insurance discrimination against victims of domestic violence. There are 41 states that have domestic violence victim unfair discrimination laws. This authorizing legislation is needed to allow the Insurance Commission to promulgate rules that address unfair discrimination against victims of domestic violence. The bill goes to the Senate.
The House approved HB 1716, by Rep. Monty Davenport of Yellville, to make it clear that collecting on a gambling debt is not a legal defense against an aggravated robbery charge. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, stems from an Arkansas Supreme Court case last year. Lawyers for the condemned man said the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in 1940 that collecting a gambling debt isn’t theft, even if it’s done forcibly, and using such force doesn’t constitute aggravated robbery. Aggravated robbery is one of several aggravating factors prosecutors use in determining whether to seek the death penalty. In the 2008 decision, the court cited the 1940 precedent and overturned the man’s conviction for aggravated robbery and, therefore, the death sentence for capital murder. While the Supreme Court said it wasn’t necessarily good law or good legal precedent, it was still on the books nonetheless.
The House approved HB 1587, by Rep. Linda Tyler of Conway, to prohibit employers from making employees or prospective employees pay for drug tests that are required as a condition of employment. The bill goes to the Senate.
The House approved SB 432 to set up recall elections in cities with a mayor-council form of government in which elected officials serve four-year terms. To get such a measure on the ballot, organizers would have to get the signatures of at least 25 percent of eligible, registered voters. The bill goes to the governor.

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