Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Lindsley Smith reports from the Arkansas General Assembly

Legislative Update‏
Sent: Wed 3/04/09 9:15 PM
Date: March 3, 2009

Lawmakers tighten seatbelt law, study scholarship ideas, prepare for ERA ratification
Lawmakers stiffened the state’s seatbelt law, made a move toward ending the state’s participation in the Electoral College, and unveiled draft legislation for lottery-funded scholarships during the General Assembly’s seventh week in session.
Senate Bill 78, which was presented in the House by Rep. Fred Allen of Little Rock, makes seatbelt violations a primary offense, meaning an officer can make a traffic stop on that violation alone. Until now, not wearing a seatbelt was a secondary offense, and the officer had to witness another violation before making a stop. The fine for not wearing a seatbelt will be $25.
Backers of the bill have tried to change the secondary-violation law for several sessions, never succeeding until now. The bill goes to the governor and takes effect immediately upon his signature. Passage of the bill assures the state of receiving $9.5 million in federal highway-safety grants. The violation is a primary offense in 26 other states, according to federal records.
The House also approved HB 1339, by Rep. Eddie Cooper of Melbourne, to change how Arkansas casts its six electoral votes for president every four years. The six votes now go to the candidate who carries the state. HB 1339 says the votes will go to the winner of the national popular vote.
Even if the measure is approved by the Senate and signed by the governor, it won’t take effect unless several other states pass similar legislation. Winning the presidency requires 270 of the 538 Electoral College votes. The Electoral College would effectively be abolished if enough states with a combined 270 electoral votes pass legislation like Arkansas’s. Five states have, so far.
Speaker of the House Robbie Wills of Conway and other legislative leaders unveiled a summary of how college scholarships to be funded by the new state lottery could be set up. Noting the vast differences in estimates of how much money will be generated by the lottery (from $55 million a year to more than $100 million), Wills said the state must be careful to not promise what it can’t deliver.
Because of that uncertainty, the draft legislation suggests a sliding scale for scholarships with their values based on the revenue actually generated. Scholarships to four-year colleges would range from $2,500 a year to $5,500, depending on revenue. Scholarships to the less-expensive two-year colleges would be half of those amounts. Ticket sales could begin late this year, and the first scholarships would be available for the 2010-2011 school year. The number of college students receiving scholarships will increase from about 8,000 to 35,000, and many of those recipients will be nontraditional students, Wills said. Eligibility requirements, under the draft, are a 2.5 grade point average or an ACT score of 19.
Also during the week, the House approved:
HB 1459, by Rep. Barbara Nix of Benton, to double the amount of time a judge can consider previous DWI convictions in setting a drunk driver’s punishment. It also gives prosecutors the same flexibility in determining what charges to file. The so-called “look back” period currently is five years, but HB 1459 would double that to 10. Most states have five-year periods, while a few others have no time limit at all. Under HB 1459, a person with at least four DWI convictions within a 10-year period could receive a felony enhancement in his sentence for another drunk driving conviction. The bill goes to the Senate.
HB 1464, by Rep. Jim Nickels of North Little Rock, to raise the minimum wage from $6.25 an hour to $6.55, matching the federal minimum wage. Most minimum-wage earners in Arkansas already are getting the federal rate. The last time minimum-wage hike in Arkansas was in 2006, going from $5.15 an hour to $6.25. The bill goes to the Senate.
HB 1402, by Rep. Steve Harrelson of Texarkana, to require Arkansas retail stores to sell only “fire-safe” cigarettes. The cigarettes extinguish themselves if they’re not actively smoked, and supporters of the bill say it will help prevent fire deaths. A fire-safe cigarette Resolution was passed previously by the Fayetteville City Council, which encouraged the State Legislature to pass such legislation. The bill goes to the Senate.
Along with the scholarship work, lawmakers in the coming days will consider a bill that sets up the state trauma network and identifies which hospitals will have major roles in that network.
Mr. David Harris, of Harris v. Ft. Smith (a case in which he and his family had to pay to go to court to enforce the Freedom of Information Act) came and testified on HB1326, by Rep. Lindsley Smith, which would allow for citizens to receive attorneys fees and costs when State government denies them protected public information and the state is not substantially justified in its denial, and it strikes out the overbroad language "or that other circumstances make an award of these expenses unjust"--thus, in cases in which the government acted egregiously in not following the law, the successful claimant's attorneys fees and costs could be covered. Citizens are always held to the standard "ignorance of the law is no excuse", and this bill would help assure that the government is also help to that standard. This bill will head to the House floor on Monday.
The fraudulent filing of a UCC financial statement legislation by Rep. Lindsley Smith passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her bill to provide for regulations on imaging centers has stalled indefinitely in the House Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee, and the similar bill that would require patients clear information of client pathology billing received a motion to be "laid on the table" until information was received by the State Medical Board as to their position on regulating client billing, which is being pursued for the committee.
In other news, Speaker of the House Robbie Wills posted on his Speaker's Blog his endorsement of Arkansas's ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. He also posted a statement by Rep. Lindsley Smith, which is provided below:

(I asked Rep. Lindsley Smith to share her views on the Equal Rights Amendment on this website, and she graciously agreed. Thank you, Lindsley!)
FOR the Equal Rights Amendment
By: Rep. Lindsley Smith
The Equal Rights Amendment merely states “equality of rights shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” which is worded to parallel the 19th Amendment, that states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
This proposed constitutional amendment is drafted and intended to assure equal treatment under law, regardless of gender, but some opponents are sending misleading statements to legislators about the effects of the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. History provides too many instances of a strident minority fabricating claims to oppose constitutional changes that provide equal protection, from abolishing slavery to extending the right to vote.
A few people now are saying almost anything to play on unfounded fears that it will cause men and women to have to share bathrooms, will increase partial birth abortions, will mandate “taxpayer-funded abortions,” this amendment will perpetuate the “gay agenda.” Would Senator Hattie Caraway or Congressman Oren Harris, later a federal judge, have sponsored a constitutional amendment to accomplish such things? Of course not!
The argument about same-sex marriage is interesting, seeing that even the Family Research Council has reversed its stance and no longer contends the ERA will grant same sex marriage. See the Family Research Councils’ Amicus Curiae for Deane v Conaway. Furthermore, there wouldn’t be a ban of the boy scouts or girl scouts because there would not be a right denied, and the ERA is about assuring equal protection of rights for a male and for a female under the law. Title IX of the Equal Opportunity in Education Act has not forced unisex bathrooms, required co-ed football teams, nor abolished fraternities and sororities on college campuses, and neither will the Equal Rights Amendment.
Anti-ERA allegations asserted are untrue, such as the charge that I wrote the amendment in simple language in order “to deceive” fellow legislators. This important amendment was not written by a State Representative, and the language can’t be changed by anyone. The United States Congress wrote the Equal Rights Amendment and each of the U.S. Representatives and Senators from Arkansas, both Republican and Democrat, voted for it and sent it to us to ratify. It was written to parallel the wording of the 19th Amendment for interpretation clarity. This Resolution is about equal protection for men and women under the law. Rep. Wilbur Mills, Rep. David Pryor, and Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt all voted to send this Amendment to the states for ratification.
The Equal Rights Amendment will allow for a higher level of scrutiny than is now provided in cases of sex discrimination or when reviewing statutes–requiring a strict scrutiny analysis similar to race, which is in the Constitution. Right now, women’s rights, other than voting because it was put in the US Constitution, are merely statutory protections or precedent from hard-fought and expensive court cases. This equality needs to be in our nation’s highest document, as it is in most of the other nation’s Constitutions.
The United States has written at least 4 constitutions–the constitution of Japan, of Afghanistan and Iraq, and in each of those we required this protection to be in those constitutions, telling them that equal protection should be in their Constitution so that protection for women is not just statutory and, therefore, easily changeable.
However, despite the US Congress passing this amendment on a bipartisan basis, it takes 38 states to ratify it, and only 35 have done so. Even if two other states do not ratify this necessary Amendment, it is important for Arkansas to take a stand for equality and be in the column of states that have affirmed this equality Amendment, rather than for all-time remaining in the column of states (15) that deny equal protection under the law for women in our nation’s Constitution. After WWII, over 100 nations changed their Constitutions to add an Equal Rights Amendment.
It is well past time for the United States of America to do what most other nations have already done! Some argue that it is too late to ratify the ERA, but that is also untrue, because the sole determination of whether states have ratified properly and any other issue related to ratification of a United States Constitutional Amendment is left to Congress, and the Congressional Research Service has determined that the ERA can still be ratified if three more states do so. The last constitutional amendment took 203 years before it was finally ratified, which was an amendment written by James Madison, when the final state needed for ratification did so in 1997.
It is also in Arkansas’s tradition of standing for equality for women to ratify Congress’s Amendment for equal rights under the law. Arkansas has a long history of leading on issues of women’s equality. In 1836 the territorial government passed a bill to protect women’s property after the women married, which made us a leader for this action. Arkansas passed primary suffrage for women in 1917–three years before national suffrage was passed. Arkansas was the 12th state to ratify the national women’s suffrage amendment, and the first Southern state to ratify this Amendment, which became the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that gave women the right to vote. Arkansas was the 1st state to elect a female U.S. Senator (Hattie Caraway). Arkansas was the 8th to elect a female U.S. Representative. Arkansas was the 1st state to ratify the Child Labor Law amendment. Arkansas was a leader in opening higher education, professional schools and professions to women.
We should also be the third Southern state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment!

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