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State Capitol Week in Review – April 30, 2021

LITTLE ROCK – The legislature brought the 2021 regular session to a close with a dramatic midnight meeting to approve a Sovereignty Act, which declares new federal laws invalid if they infringe on the right to bear arms.

In the waning days of the session the governor vetoed Senate Bill 298, which was the first version of the Sovereignty Act. In his veto letter, the governor expressed concerns that the bill would jeopardize combined law enforcement actions conducted by federal agents in cooperation with local and state police officers.

The Senate voted to override the veto, but the House of Representatives did not. Instead, a new version of the Sovereignty Act was introduced - House Bill 1957.

Both the Senate and the House finalized action on HB 1957 after midnight, in the early hours of April 28. Each chamber then went in an extended recess, bringing this year’s regular session to an end.

HB 1957 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.

HB 1957 satisfied the governor’s concerns and he said he would sign it. Spokesmen for sheriffs and prosecutors said they were not opposed to the second version of the Sovereignty Act.

Two other states have passed similar sovereignty laws, and in more than a dozen states similar laws have been introduced and are working through the legislative process.

The legislative session lasted 108 days. Lawmakers filed 1,675 bills. By the end of the session 894 bills had become law, but the legislature had passed many more and had sent them to the governor.

The legislature went into extended recess and will meet again in the fall to draw new boundaries for the four Congressional districts in Arkansas. It’s a task the legislature does every 10 years, when the U.S. Census Bureau releases new population statistics.

Usually, the legislature redraws the boundaries during the regular session, but this year the Census Bureau is behind schedule and won’t have new population numbers until September.

After the legislature draws new Congressional district boundaries, we will adjourn and not convene again until next year’s fiscal session. If extraordinary circumstances call for it, the governor could call the legislature into a special session.

Under the Arkansas Constitution, the legislature cannot call itself into session. It can only meet in regular sessions or in a special session called by the governor. However, voters will have the opportunity to amend the Constitution next year and allow legislators to call themselves into session.

The proposed amendment will be on the general election ballot in November of 2022. It was referred this year by the legislature, which can refer three proposed amendments in each regular session.

Another referred amendment is titled the “Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment.” The third referred amendment would raise the bar for citizens’ groups seeking to change the Constitution. It would require a 60 percent majority for approval of ballot measures brought by citizens’ groups wanting to change the Constitution. Currently, a simple majority of more than 50 percent is sufficient.


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