Legislative Session Wrap Up: Passed Bills

The 2021 regular legislative session is over. Over the last four months, many bills were passed that will impact the lives of Arkansans from this day forward. For those interested in learning more about the bills passed during the session, we have put together a complete review sorted by category.


Second Amendment

The “Stand Your Ground” bill is now Act 250. It repeals the obligation to retreat from a confrontation if you could do so safely. From now on, you can respond with deadly force.


Act 809 by Senator Clark allows employees to keep a firearm concealed in their motor vehicle while the employee is at work and the vehicle is on the company parking lot.


The governor vetoed SB 298 by Senator Stubblefield, the Arkansas Sovereignty Act, which directed Arkansas law enforcement to ignore federal gun laws if they are unconstitutional.


To replace SB 298, the legislature met in a midnight session to approve HB 1957 by Sen. Irvin and Rep. Wardlaw. It became Act 1012.


Act 1012 allows local police officers to cooperate with federal agents on many types of law enforcement, such as arresting drug dealers. It prohibits Arkansas law enforcement from cooperating with federal agents if the federal operation’s main purpose is confiscation of firearms or any other infringement on the Second Amendment.


Abortion

Act 309 by Sen. Rapert prohibits abortions except to save the life of the mother, with no exception for rape or incest.


Act 949 by Senator Beckham requires abortion clinics to be licensed by the Health Department and prohibits abortions at hospitals unless it is to save the life of the mother.


Act 90 by Rep. Dotson requires expectant mothers to take counseling before getting an abortion. The counseling will present all the services available if they keep their child.


Act 561 by Rep. Breaux prohibits the use of public funds to pay for abortions caused by rape or incest, which is allowed under the federal Hyde Amendment. Act 561 allows public funding for abortions to save the life of the mother.


Tax Cuts

Act 154 by Senator Dismang is a tax cut for people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Unemployment benefits will not be taxed by the state, saving Arkansans about $59 million in state income taxes.


Act 248 by Rep. Eaves will save Arkansas businesses $33 million this year and $179 million next fiscal year through tax exemptions on income that people and businesses received through numerous disaster relief programs, such as the popular Paycheck Protection Program.


More than 43,000 Arkansas businesses received more than $3.3 billion through PPP loans.


As of mid-January, about 19 percent of those loans have been forgiven. The exemption includes benefits from federal Small Business Administration loans and the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.


Act 935 by Rep. Eaves is called “Paisley’s Law,” and it creates a $500 individual income tax credit for a stillborn child. It will save Arkansas families $139,500 in Fiscal 2022, according to DFA estimates.


Act 944 by Sen. Trent Garner expands the state’s annual sales-tax holiday to include electronic devices, calculators and cell phones. State law provides a sales-tax holiday for purchases of clothing, clothing accessories or equipment, school art supplies, school instructional materials and school supplies. The bill is projected by the finance department to reduce sales and use tax revenue by $1.95 million in fiscal 2022.


Act 594 by Rep. Wardlaw creates an income tax credit for timber companies to offset the costs of wood energy products and forest maintenance.


Act 1013 by Rep. Jett and Senator Dismang is the governor's plan to reduce the sales tax on used vehicles and trailers priced between $4,000 and $10,000 from 6.5% to 3.5%.


DFA estimates its revenue impact is $6.5 million in FY 2022 and $13.1 million in fiscal 2023. The bill would become effective Jan. 1.


Act 362 by Senator Dismang and others will set up a voluntary individual income tax on pass-through business entities, such as partnerships and S corporations, if they opt to be subject to the tax, and it would exclude certain income from gross income for pass-through entities. Up to 45,826 entities could elect to pay the pass-through entity tax.


DFA projects the act will generate $4.24 million in increased state general revenue, but Dismang said it would provide an estimated $50 million worth of federal tax savings for these same taxpayers.


Education

Act 414 by Sen. English requires high school students to complete a unit of computer science in order to graduate, beginning with the ninth-grade class of 2022-2023.


Act 679 by Senator Irvin and Act 680 by Rep. Cozart create a new category of education funding called the teacher salary equalization categorical fund.


The bill allows districts with below-average teacher salaries to draw from a special fund, in order to raise their average annual salary to $51,822 in the next two school years.


The proposal shifts $25 million in state education funding.


Act 684 allows parents to challenge curricula and events they feel are misleading or factually inaccurate. Rep. Bruce Cozart is the sponsor. He said would put into law what is already in place in policy set by the Arkansas School Board Association.


Act 958 by Rep. Mark Berry requires schools to play the National Anthem before sporting events, and at least once a week in K-12 during school hours.


Act 959 by Rep. Mark Berry requires schools to hold a minute of silence after the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.


Act 611 by Senator Hester requires all schools to teach about the Holocaust in Nazi occupied countries of Europe before and during World War II.


Failed education bills

---HB 1761 by Rep. Lowery states that schools shall not teach that any race or ethnicity is superior, that any member of any race or ethnicity is inherently racist, that the United States is systemically racist, or promote prejudice or discrimination toward any race or ethnicity.


Other controversial education bills that failed to pass were:

--HB 1830 by Rep. Dotson, the “Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act,”

--HB 1701 by Rep. Bentley to allow the teaching of creationism.

--HB1231 by Rep. Lowery to prohibit schools from using “1619 Project,” which was written by New York Times journalists to recognize the role of slavery and African-American people in the nation’s history.

--HB1218 by Rep. Lowery to prohibit schools from teaching that American institutions have been racist.

Medicaid


Act 530 restructures Medicaid expansion and gives it a new name – ARHOME.

Hospitals and doctors would still be reimbursed at rates paid by private insurance companies, rather than lower Medicaid rates.


The state/federal match would still be 10 percent/90 percent.


Rather than require recipients to work, which the federal government under the Biden administration will no longer mandate, recipients will be encouraged to work or continue their education. If they work, they qualify for private insurance plans that offer more services than traditional Medicaid.


Private insurance carriers will be required to meet annual financial targets. If not, there will be penalties.


Medicine

Act 434 by Senator Dismang extends for two years, until July 1, 2023, the sunset date for the 2017 state law mandating all sellers of medical marijuana collect and remit the special 4% privilege tax on sales.

UAMS receives much of the revenue from the medical marijuana tax to help it achieve the National Cancer Institute designation.


DFA projects that the bill will raise $13.3 million in FY 2022, with $12.4 million deposited to the UAMS National Cancer Designation Trust Fund.


Act 462 by Senator Hammer will allow medical practitioners, hospitals and insurance providers to decline services that violate their consciences.


Act 829 by Sen. Hester and Rep. Dotson eases restrictions on telemedicine.


Act 779 by Senator Irvin mandates health insurance coverage of colorectal screenings and follow-up colonoscopies for people aged 45 and older. The previous threshold was age 50.


Scope of Practice

Act 757 by Senator Wallace creates a pilot program in high schools for students to graduate with credits toward their Licensed Practical Nurse certificate.


Act 503 by Senator Wallace authorizes pharmacists to diagnose flu and strep and then prescribe medications.


Act 449 by Senator Wallace repeals certain requirements that a certified registered nurse anesthetist work under supervision of a physician.


Acts 406 and 407 by Senator Gilmore allows pharmacists and their technicians to administer vaccines and immunizations.


Act 412 by Senator Hammer grants full independent practice authority to certified nurse practitioners, after 6,240 hours of practice under a physician’s supervision.


Act 408 by Senator Davis allows pharmacists to prescribe birth control pills, for up to six months. After six months the woman must visit a physician in order to continue getting oral contraceptives.


Act 607 by Senator Hammer grants full practice authority to certified nurse midwives.


Act 439 by Senator Davis allows staff at city or county jails to draw and measure insulin for inmates. It repeals a requirement that only a nurse could do so. The staff must be trained every year by a nurse.


COVID push backs

Act 403 by Senator Hammer allows the Senate president pro tempore, the Speaker, or a majority of the chambers to terminate an emergency declared by the governor.


Act 311 by Senator Davis allows the families of Covid-19 patients to visit them in the hospital, as long as they follow protocols. It’s called the “No Patient Left Alone Act.”


SB 301 by Senator Sullivan would have required the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division and the Health Department to return fines to businesses that were sanctioned during the public-health emergency between March 11, 2020, and Feb. 28, 2021.


The governor vetoed SB 301. The Senate voted 19-to-13 to override, but the override failed in the House on a vote of 39-to-40.


Act 401 by Senator Hammer prohibits the state from penalizing businesses if customers, rather than employees, disregard public-health guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic.


Act 559 by Rep. Gonzales provides immunity for businesses and employees from claims of exposure to the virus. Gonzales said businesses that fail to follow public health guidelines could still be held liable under the bill’s “misconduct” exception.


Act 353 by Rep. Gonzalez allows employees to file workers’ comp claims for contracting Covid-19 on the job. It effective dates are from March 11, 2020 until May 1, 2023.


Act 510 by Rep. McCollum codifies two executive orders by the governor that protect health care providers with immunity from civil suits caused by Covid-19 claims.


Act 1030 by Senator Garner defines a vaccine passport and states that "The use of a vaccine passport shall not be a condition for entry, travel, education or services" and that government agencies at all levels shall not require people to use a passport for any purpose.


Criminal Law

Act 946 by Sen. Dismang lengthens prison sentences for repeat offenders who use firearms to commit felonies.


Act 375 creates the offense of doxxing against a minor. This is defined as publishing on social media private information such as phone numbers and home addresses, and urging people to “get them” or “do something about them.”


Act 375 makes it a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the harm that comes to the person who was “doxxed.”


Act 1061 by Senator Blake Johnson increases penalties for drag racing on public streets and highways.

Act 558 increases penalties for drivers who fail to remain at the scene of an accident.


Act 274 by Rep. L. Fite and Senator Hammer increases the “lookback” period for DWI’s, from five to 10 years. To be sentenced as a repeat offender, authorities consider the past 10 years rather than the past five. The act applies to DWI while boating too.


Transgender Restrictions

Act 626 by Senator Clark prohibits sex-change surgery or hormone therapy for minors who want to change genders.


Act 461 by Sen. Irvin prohibits transgender women from competing in female sports, in effect, by allowing lawsuits against a school if it has a policy that allows trans gender girls to compete.


Election laws

Act 728 by Sen. Kim Hammer prohibits people from entering or remaining in an area within 100 feet of the entrance to a voting site while voting is taking place, except for a person entering or leaving the building for "lawful purposes."


Proponents of the bill said it aims to prevent voter intimidation, electioneering activities and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, while objectors said it was overly broad and could prevent nonprofits from distributing food and water.


Act 729 makes establishing polling sites solely the duty of county election commissioners.


Act 727 amends the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act to exempt ballots from records that can be disclosed to the public.


Act 756 by Rep. Lowery enhances the power of the state Election Commission to investigate complaints about local elections. It also gives the county election commission power over election budgeting process, although counties pay the bill.


Act 974 by Senator Hammer creates a toll-free hotline to the state Attorney General’s office to receive complaints of any violations of election law. To knowingly file a false claim would be a Class A misdemeanor.


Within 45 days of an election, the Attorney General shall report all complaints to the legislature’s Joint Performance Review Committee (JPR). SB 644 would empower JPR to investigate allegations of election fraud.


Act 736 by Rep. Lowery states that possession of more than four absentee ballots is presumed to be election fraud. It requires county clerks to provide the county board of election commissioners with a daily count of absentee ballot applications.


The act directs county clerks to compare signatures on applications for absentee ballots with signatures on the applicant’s voter registration document. If the signatures don’t match, the clerk will not send an absentee ballot to the applicant.


Act 1022 by Senator Clark requires the county board of election commissioners to prepare a report on ballots, listing the number of provisional ballots cast and the number rejected and for what reasons.


Act 973 by Senator Hammer moves back the deadline when absentee ballots must be turned in to the county clerk, from Monday before the election to the preceding Friday.


Act 952 by Senator Mark Johnson changes the course of action when someone files an election law complaint to a county board of election commissioners. Instead of forwarding the complaint to the county clerk and prosecuting attorney, the county board shall send it to the state Board of Election Commissioners.


Act 950 by Senator Mark Johnson provides that county boards of election commissioners shall supervise all county election officials, and they must comply with the board’s directives.


Act 249 by Rep. Lowery repeals a provision that allowed voters to sign an affidavit at their polling place if they didn’t bring a photo ID.


The county Board of Election Commissioners would then later verify that the voter was registered and eligible. Act 249 does not allow for a signature at the polling place. Voters without a photo ID will have to cast a provisional ballot, and for it to be counted they will have to go to the county courthouse by the following Monday.


Landlord-Tenant Rights

Act 1052 by Senator Dismang sets housing standards that landlords must follow when maintaining residential rental property. If the property is not kept up to the standards, renters may cancel their lease after proper notification of the landlord.


It also eliminates the requirement that renters put up a deposit in order to file a complaint.


Broadband

Act 67 by Senator Hill allows cities and counties to issue bonds for broadband infrastructure.

Act 795 by Rep. Lanny Fite allows for the creation of broadband improvement districts by public-private partnerships.


Child Custody

Act 604 affects custody battles in divorce cases. It creates a rebuttable presumption that joint custody is in the best interest of the child.


College Athletes

Act 810 by Speaker Shepherd would allow college athletes to be paid for use of their names, images and likenesses.


Agriculture

Act 361 by Senator Hill and Rep. Hillman amends the make-up of the state Plant Board. It adds a member, so the board will have 19 members rather than 18. It combines the horticulture and nurserymen positions into one position, to be filled by a farmer.


Act 418 by Rep. Vaught will create a state meat inspection program, similar to programs in 27 other states. Part of the impetus for the bill was the strong response to a new $5 million grant program for expanding and upgrading Arkansas meat processing facilities. Then, the General Assembly allocated funds from the federal CARES Act to create the grant program, which generated 45 applications requesting more than $30 million in funds.


This session, $750,000 will be appropriated to the Agriculture Department for an eight-man inspection team.