State Capitol Week in Review – March 5, 2021

LITTLE ROCK – Both chambers of the legislature have approved a bill that prohibits abortions, except if necessary to save the mother’s life in a medical emergency.


Several legislators said they had concerns about the bill because it does not have an exception for rape or incest.


Senate Bill 6 passed in the Senate by a 27-to-7 vote and in the House of Representatives by a 76-to-19 vote.


It authorizes penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000 for people who are convicted or performing or attempting to perform an abortion. It specifically does not authorize any criminal charges against any pregnant woman in the death of her unborn child.


Also, SB 6 does not prohibit the sale or use of prescription drugs, contraceptive measures or chemicals as long as they are administered before the pregnancy has been determined through conventional medical testing.


In other news, the governor signed SB 24, known as the “Stand Your Ground” bill. It is Act 250 of 2021.

It removes the previous requirement in state law that people had to retreat from a confrontation if they could do so safely.


Under Act 250, a person is not required to retreat before using deadly force if he or she is legally at the location where the confrontation occurs, and has a reasonable belief that the other person is threatening his or her life with death or serious physical injury.


A group of about 35 legislators formed the “Back the Blue” caucus to support bills strengthening law enforcement. One measure in the package is SB 300 to prohibit parole for certain repeat offenders who use a firearm to commit a felony.


Another measure is HB 1343 to lower the threshold for retirement for state troopers, from 30 to 28 years of service.


Also in the package is SB 346 to add audiovisual media to the list of documentation that law enforcement agencies maintain in criminal investigations.


Other criminal investigation documents include lab reports, arrest records, search warrants and incident reports. The bill outlines how many years those documents must be retained, which depends on the severity of the crime.


SB 346 would allow law enforcement agencies to charge reasonable fees for the costs of copying audiovisual media and electronic records, for example to comply with a request for public records under the state freedom of information act.


Reasonable fees could include personnel time needed to reproduce the documents.


Some advocates for transparency in government have expressed concern that approval of SB 346 might encourage other government entities, apart from law enforcement agencies, to charge for personnel time when complying with FOI requests.


The House has passed several bills prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. HB 1488 would allow employees to file a workers’ compensation claim if they can prove they contracted the Covid-19 virus in their workplace. It would expire in two years.


The House also passed HB 1521 to provide immunity from civil lawsuits for health care providers when they diagnose and treat patients with Covid-19. Their immunity would be similar to that of emergency responders.


HB 1061, called the “No Patient Left Alone” act, would create procedures for allowing people to visit family in hospitals and nursing homes during the pandemic.

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