Arkansas State Capitol news in brief: Bill on what investments the state will hold advances

House advances divestiture bill

A bill that would authorize the state treasurer to divest certain state investments because of the use of environmental, social justice or governance-related metrics handily cleared the House of Representatives on Thursday.

The House voted 79-12 to send House Bill 1037 by Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Hermitage, to the Senate for further action.

Under HB1307, a state investment shall be made in the sole interest of the beneficiary state taxpayer and the state treasurer’s evaluation shall be based only on pecuniary factors. In addition, a public entity shall not invest funds with a financial services provider listed on the estate treasurer’s website under the bill.

The state treasurer would be required to post the list of financial services providers that discriminate against energy companies or firearms entities or otherwise refuse to deal based on environmental, social justice and other governance-related factors on the treasurer’s website under the bill. Forty-five days before including a financial services provider on a list, the treasurer, at the direction of the attorney general, would be required to send a written notice to the financial services provider.

Under the bill, the state treasurer would be required to divest the state of all direct or indirect holdings with a financial services provider included on the list published on the state treasurer’s website for retirement holdings and all other holdings within certain periods.

— Michael R. Wickline

Jury-duty opt-out fails House vote

A bill intended to provide a jury duty exemption for Arkansans 70 and older failed in the Arkansas House on Thursday.

House Bill 1355, by Rep. Howard Beaty, R-Crossett, fell short of clearing the House in a 39-40 vote with 10 members voting present.

Beaty said his bill would allow Arkansans 70 and older to notify courts using jury summons forms that they elected not to serve on a jury. Current law allows a person 80 and older to “voluntarily exempt himself or herself from or decline to participate in jury service at any time.”

The measure would keep septuagenarians who do not wish to participate in a jury from having to attend court or contact the court clerk to request an exemption, Beaty said. He noted the bill would bring Arkansas in conformity with neighboring states, including Louisiana and Texas.

— Will Langhorne

Jail-repayment bill goes to governor

The Arkansas House on Thursday passed a bill that would require all reimbursements counties receive from the state Division of Correction for holding state inmates to begin accruing on the date the inmates are sentenced.

Senate Bill 72, by Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, passed 95-0. The vote sends the measure to the governor’s desk.

Under current state law, counties holding state inmates receive reimbursements from the state Department of Correction beginning on the date of sentencing if the department receives the judgement and commitment order no later than 21 days from the sentencing date.

The department reimburses counties on the day state officials receive the judgement and commitment order if the order is received 22 days or more after the sentencing date, under current law. Hickey previously said the Division of Correction estimates the bill will cost the state nearly $4.7 million or more a year.

The Division of Correction is barred from reimbursing the counties until the division receives a complete and accurate sentencing order under the bill.

— Will Langhorne

Appraisal change gets Senate’s nod

The Senate on Thursday approved a bill aimed at requiring each county to appraise real estate at its full market value every four years rather than either every three or five years.

The Senate voted 34-0 to send Senate Bill 198 by Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, to the House for further consideration.

In order to reach a substantially equal number of counties undergoing reappraisal each year, the director of the Assessment Coordination Division may grant an exception to the requirements of each county appraising real estate at its full market value every four years under the bill.

— Michael R. Wickline

Senate backs bill easing abuse suits

The Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would remove the age limitation for a vulnerable victim of sexual abuse to file a civil suit.

Under current state law, a vulnerable victim of sexual abuse before he or she reaches 55 years of age may bring a civil action against any party who committed sexual abuse against the vulnerable victim or whose tortious conduct caused the vulnerable victim to be a victim of sexual abuse.

The civil action may be started not earlier than six months after and no later than 30 months after the effective date of the proposed law.

Senate Bill 204 by Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville, would remove the age limitation of “before he or she reaches 55 years of age.”

The Senate voted 34-0 to send the bill to the House for further consideration.

— Michael R. Wickline

Bomb-squad gun bill clears Senate

A bill that would allow members of municipal fire department bomb squads to carry weapons when responding to bomb threats cleared the Arkansas Senate on Thursday.

The Senate voted 34-0 to send House Bill 1018 by Rep. Stephen Meeks, R-Greenbrier, to the House to consider a Senate-approved amendment to the bill. The amendment struck a provision allowing bomb technicians to make arrests while on the job.

Meeks has said his bill is needed to provide all bomb squad members with the means to defend themselves in dangerous situations.

Under the legislation, the fire departments overseeing the bomb technicians would manage the liability of members carrying weapons while on the job. Little Rock, Fort Smith and Conway are the only municipalities in Arkansas with bomb squads attached to their fire departments, Meeks said.

— Michael R. Wickline and Will Langhorne

Job-interview bill OK’d by Senate

The Senate on Thursday approved a bill intended to prohibit people who receive unemployment benefits from avoiding job interviews.

The Senate voted 33-0 to send House Bill 1197, by Rep. Kendon Underwood, R-Cave Springs, to the governor.

Sen. Ben Gilmore, R-Crossett, said the bill will codify the state Division of Workforce Services’ existing practice.

Under the bill, a prospective employer may notify the state Division of Workforce Services if a person fails to appear for a scheduled job interview. If state officials determine a person has failed “without good cause” to appear for a scheduled job interview on at least two occasions, the bill would allow the director of the division to disqualify the person from a week of benefits.

— Michael R. Wickline

Joint panel favors water-quality cash

The Joint Budget Committee on Thursday advanced a bill that would grant $6 million in spending authority to the state Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Commission for expenses associated with the implementation of water quality best management practices to improve water quality in the Illinois River watershed.

The committee sent House Bill 1403 by Rep. Delia Haak, R-Gentry, to the House.

Local governments, landowners, farmers, and large and small businesses have worked on best management practices in the Illinois River watershed over the past 20 years, she told the budget committee.

“The headwaters drains from Arkansas into Oklahoma, and we have a had a lot of back-and-forth between the two states of Arkansas and Oklahoma for the last 50 years,” Haak said.

She said she is requesting state funds to finance the spending authority that her bill would authorize. The bill doesn’t include state funds.

“To my knowledge, no additional state funding has gone to the Illinois River watershed outside of federal grants that come through the EPA 319 program for best management practices,” Haak said.

— Michael R. Wickline